There is mounting pressure on cultural organisations to evaluate their tech stack, keeping up with customer expectations and making digital tools work harder to enhance sales, marketing, and the overall visitor experience. Arts leaders are now encouraged to explore not only how technology can help them build relationships and drive loyalty, but how it can be used to reduce operational costs, streamline the customer experience, and generate earned income across diverse revenue streams.
One organisation who has done just that is the MAC in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Opened in 2012, the MAC is the creative heart of the city’s Cathedral Quarter, and has been at the forefront of recent regeneration in the area. The MAC connects communities across Northern Ireland with exciting and culturally diverse work, and since 2012, they have welcomed over 2 million people through their doors and into their two theatre spaces, three art galleries, family room, and cafe bar space.
CX, Cuts, and Creative Entrepreneurship
Arts organisations all over the UK and the Republic of Ireland are operating in an increasingly difficult and challenging public funding climate.
Northern Irish organisations, like the MAC, are facing drastic cuts with a renewed pressure to attract and retain audiences, with ever-diminishing budgets - as Arts Professional reports, “publicity and marketing spending has been squeezed from 4% down to 3% – in contrast to an estimated average marketing expenditure at Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisations of 5%.”
To ensure it can continue to challenge, inspire, and deliver a world-class cultural offering to as many people as possible, the MAC has developed a sustainability model to drive towards self-sufficiency for the future. Focussing on entrepreneurial thinking, and increasing opportunities for venue hire and corporate partnerships, the sustainability plan also strives to ensure the MAC’s end-to-end customer experience (CX) centres on excellent customer care that creates connections with audiences, old and new. Indeed, bringing this sustainability plan to life led them to take their bar and restaurant in-house and develop it as a key revenue stream and organisational touchpoint to get even closer to their audiences.
This new venture also brings the exciting challenge of thinking beyond individual customer touchpoints - from queuing for tickets, buying a drink, to arriving at your seat - and understanding how the MAC could use digital tools and data to connect the dots and consolidate a holistic customer journey. Paula Kearney, Box Office Manager at the MAC, was keen to see how customer data and insights from their Spektrix system could be used more widely across the organisation to power opportunities that engage visitors with all that’s on offer in the MAC.
How Service Supports Sustainability
The MAC started working with crowdEngage in February 2019, as they wanted to explore how mobile-first experiences could support their customer experience across different touchpoints. The MAC were among the first arts organisations to adopt a mobile-first approach to their website. Having seen the success of prioritising device-driven customer engagement, the MAC recognised there were more opportunities to grow their mobile-first strategy. With a lively and diverse programme, a motivated team wholly engaged in the MAC’s mission, and the new in-house bar and restaurant opening to rave reviews, the MAC were already in a strong position to bring their sustainability model to life and had opportunities to use mobile engagement both inside and outside of their building.
Improving the audience experience began with addressing box office and bar queues - the sworn enemy of customers and revenue generation alike. From the get go, the MAC boldly embraced crowdEngage’s pre-show texts and mobile tickets as a solution to reduce waiting time and give customers more opportunities to enjoy in-venue dining and their bar. crowdEngage mobile tickets send QR codes directly to a customer’s mobile phone so there is no need to stand in line and collect tickets. Mobile tickets are three times quicker to scan than standard print at home or thermal tickets, so the MAC’s Front of House team can scan customers in and get them to their seats in record time.
“crowdEngage is helping us deliver something different to our customers and goes beyond the in-built capability of our ticketing system.”
Since rolling out crowdEngage mobile tickets, the MAC has now moved to a model where physical tickets are only allocated as COBO for customers who don’t have a mobile number listed against their record. This change means that the Box Office team spend less time on manual and administrative tasks such as printing tickets and organising in-hand collections, and they now have more time to focus on customer care and helping visitors once they arrive at the venue. Understanding that not all visitors are confident with using mobile tickets, the Box Office team are on hand to show customers how to access their QR codes, meaning they’re equipped with the know-how for future visits.
“crowdEngage makes the box office experience smoother and cleaner. Thanks to pre-show texts, we’ve seen that customers are more confident about where they’re going on the day.”
As a busy multi-art form venue, the MAC is also using crowdEngage mobile tickets to support other areas of their public programme of free talks, tours, and family-focussed workshops. Any arts organisation knows that bookers for free ticketed events are notoriously fickle when it comes to turning up on the day, however the MAC have found that forgoing emails for reminder texts is proving to be a useful and cost-efficient way to ensure attendance for these events.
Creating Customer-Centric Experiences at The Luminaire Club
In autumn 2018, the MAC launched The Luminaire Club, transforming their Downstairs Theatre into an exciting cabaret space with all the energy, spirit, and atmosphere of an intimate jazz club. The Luminaire Club is an immersive and interactive setting for seeing a musical, play, or comedy show, and this flexible set-up creates opportunities to offer visitors a premium experience for a truly memorable night out. Premium bookers not only get access to cosy tables and cabaret seats (the best in the house 💅), but they also get exclusive waiter service for the evening, as part of the five-star package.
Premium bookers are encouraged to order arrival drinks, interval drinks, or both, on the day of the performance, straight from their mobile device. They receive a pre-show text with a link to the drinks menu, and from there, they can place their order and pay securely via card, Apple Pay, or Google Pay. The drinks menu can be changed and updated to reflect seasonal specials or weekly promotions, or it can also display a specially curated list of top-end drinks, targeted at those premium customers.
The MAC is using crowdEngage to help fulfil this bespoke service by ensuring the Front of House teams on duty have the necessary order information to ensure operations run like clockwork on the night.
"We’ve found that preorders for interval drinks via crowdEnage are proving very popular."
The convenience of preorders via crowdEngage is proving a hit with customers, and text prompts are encouraging ticket holders to get their orders in early. As well as helping generate additional income for the MAC, staggering orders in this way also reduces queues at the bar and helps the Front of House teams anticipate demand ahead of the doors opening.
Arts marketing with a mobile-first focus
Arts organisations often invest a lot of time and resource into producing printed materials for performances, but measuring the impact, reach, and ROI, of traditional printed materials can be nigh-on-impossible. And let’s not even mention the boxes of out-of-date, unsold programmes that have been known to loiter under desks, in backrooms, and prop cupboards in venues across the country.
Balancing resource - and budget - between preparing printed collateral and producing digital content is a fine art. Yet, digital programmes reduce the friction between these two marketing areas, all while ensuring the customer still receives a high-value end product.
There are many benefits to using digital programmes; they’re ideal for on-the-go, digital-first consumers, they extend the reach of your digital content, and with less demanding production timelines than their physical counterparts, they give marketing teams more lead time to gather and create content. If nothing else, digital programmes are perfect for cultural organisations looking to reduce their environmental impact and be that little bit greener.
The MAC used digital programmes for Bouncers, a raucous Belfast retelling of John Godber’s classic play, all staged in their lively Luminaire Club. Working with eyekiller, their web developer, they created a beautifully designed programme page for Bouncers that is optimised for a great user experience, whether the visitor is browsing on mobile or desktop.
“The digital programmes have had great open rates and engagement, and customer feedback has been very positive.”
The MAC’s digital programmes are sent out in pre-show texts, and can be accessed in just one tap - eliminating the faff and common barrier of having to download custom-built apps that host digital content. The MAC can track engagement with their digital programmes in the crowdEngage backend, which means they can keep an eye on how their content is performing, and better understand what is proving most popular with their visitors.
The arrival of pre-show texts is not the death knell for pre-show emails. In fact, using text messages in conjunction with pre-show emails creates more opportunities to serve customers relevant information at the right time, drive conversions and leverage a visitor’s last-minute decision-making. The MAC agree, with Paula saying “We find that the texts complement our existing pre-show email, and we feel confident that we’ve gone out of our way to ensure visitors have all the information they need.”
Seeing the impact of mobile-first engagement
The MAC is only six months into using crowdEngage, but already it’s helping drive bar sales and is firmly embedded their customer experience strategy.
Focussed on collecting Voice of Customer (VOC) insight through post-show surveys and Secret Shoppers, the MAC is actively seeking customer feedback to streamline the mobile experience, so that it continues to best serve the needs of their audiences.
There’s never a quiet moment at the MAC, and crowdEngage is proving to be a low-maintenance but high-impact digital solution that is easily managed by their busy teams as ‘conversations’ or texts can be pre-scheduled and set to run automatically for a performance run. Paula sets aside half an hour at the start of each week to sense-check pre-scheduled messages, and see if messaging can be tweaked to reflect changes to the show or optimised to make the most of any promotional opportunities.
“The crowdEngage support team has been incredibly helpful and their in-depth knowledge of Spektrix, and how the two systems can work in harmony, has been extremely useful.”
Moreover, crowdEngage syncs with the MAC’s Spektrix system, so time isn’t wasted on manually exporting or importing event or booking lists. At crowdEngage, we’re always happy to get hands-on with helping connect mobile services with your system set-up, and our expert knowledge of ticketing systems, like Spektrix, means we can do this in a way which best suits your system configuration.
We’ve loved seeing the positive response crowdEngage has had with visitors at the MAC and how it’s become a valued asset in the MAC’s day-to-day operations.
As Hugh, founder of crowdEngage, explains: “My favourite part of the job is working with the smart and dedicated teams at arts organisations across the UK and North America. The MAC is at the forefront of creatively rethinking the theatre-going experience - it's a pleasure to be part of that.”
If you’re interested in seeing how crowdEngage can support your organisation, get in touch.