TRG blog: Innovation by integration: patron service office models
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Innovation by integration: patron service office models serve audiences better

Vincent VanVleet | July 29, 2015 9:20 AM

This post is part in a series by TRG and Piper Foundation Fellow Vincent VanVleet where he’ll report on his discoveries as he travels the country to research the impact of patron loyalty. Read more of his posts here.

Photo by Erik Schepers (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Are you investing in your audience?

You might read that question and think, “What a silly question—of course we’re investing in our audience.” But, really and truly—lip service about the value of your audience is not enough.

Put another way: Are you spending money on keeping your audience happy and serving them well?

The customer service professionals who work at arts organizations are on the front lines of building patron relationships, serving your audience directly. Often, they are paid the least, have the least power, and—most importantly—are not well-integrated into loyalty strategies undertaken by marketing and development. That’s changing in organizations across the country.

For the last month I’ve been travelling the country, interviewing arts organizations who’ve had patron loyalty successes. I’ve been pondering how patron relationships develop over time and the role that arts organizations play in developing their own audiences. Recently, I’ve talked to two organizations that have invested heavily in their patron services and call center staff, and seen big returns when they merged those functions into one team.

The PSO model: What is it?

Both Seattle Repertory Theatre (SRT) and Portland Center Stage (PCS) have developed strong patron service office (PSO) models. They pay these frontline staff above industry standards to reduce transience amongst what is a high turnover position in most organizations. In turn, they ask more from this team. In both instances the PSO team has 100% of subscribers layered into portfolios with which each member of the PSO team interacts personally. Portland Center Stage goes so far as to give every subscriber the individual business email address and office phone number of their portfolio manager in the call center. They have reported nearly a 10% leap in subscriber renewals in the first year of implementation, and on the intrinsic side, a higher level of satisfaction amongst those patrons.

Seattle Repertory Theatre has now created a new patron experience department within their PSO team. The department includes front of house as well as ticketing and data, linking patron experiences back to relationship building and setting the stage to create loyalty amongst attendees. Thus “PSO 2.0,” as they refer to it, was born. SRT has reinvested the funds derived from the success of PSO 1.0, where they had implemented portfolios and combined their in-bound and out-bound sales efforts, to innovate in the creation of PSO 2.0. I was fascinated to see SRT using their ticketing platform to run reports evaluating both the effectiveness of mailings and “lifetime value” from the three previous years and using this to project growth. This reliance on data to tell a story and predict the future allows the PSO team members to shape their efforts, focusing on behaviors and campaigns that are moving the needle. 

PSOs strengthen fundraising

I was delighted to learn that at both SRT and PCS the PSO teams played an integral role in development efforts. Portland Center Stage gave the responsibility of the subscriber-donor renewal campaign, which is traditionally a development department responsibility, to the same portfolio managers in the call center instead. The PSO team holds the responsibility to renew all donors up to $3,500--yes, without having to go through the development department. PCS relies on the personal relationships they develop with the subscribers in their portfolios over the course of the season. The PSO team is responsible for both renewing and increasing the level of giving in each household. At SRT, the PSO team renews all donors up to $1,000.

These efforts are the ground floor of operationalizing integrated loyalty—developing loyalty at all levels of the organization, across departmental boundaries. While the development department is involved in the coordination of the strategies for the renewal efforts, the execution happened outside the development team, creating additional internal support for development.  Fundraising requires one-to-one marketing, as people give to people, and the organization acts as the vehicle for the shared cause folks align around. So, the best part about the PSO renewing and upgrading donations under $3500? It freed up the development department to focus on both acquisition campaigns for subscribers who were not yet giving, as well as solicitation and renewal of gifts above $3,500.

This program is a no-brainer in terms of efficiency. Patrons are called once for both donation renewals and subscription renewals. The development team doesn’t need to pay to staff a secondary call center team for renewing that support, leaving more funds to be reinvested  to expand the organization’s base. 

The big question: the hand-off

These PSO models are moving the needle for many organizations which embrace them. Still, the big question remains: at what point is there an appropriate hand-off to development to take over these patron relationships from the PSO team in its entirety? 

This is where organizations often become stymied.  Processes, procedures, and clarity of roles seem to get in the way of total integration of team members and efforts. Ironically, my travels and visits with organizations have revealed that, while we are all after growth and PSO teams are helping us accomplish that growth, the larger we grow, the more team members we add, the more cumbersome and silo-ed organizational structures become. Yikes!  This is the opposite of what the data and results of the PSO efforts tell us will create the most successful outcomes.  Obviously the antidote is not to avoid growth. The million dollar question seems to be figuring out how to grow and keep our patrons at the center of our strategy, while managing teams around them.

How do we manage development, marketing, and sales to operate as one cohesive unit even at the higher and higher levels of the organization? Of note, in most organizations I have visited, true integration is left to the directors of each of the teams in the hopes they will want to work collaboratively together and can manage to get along.  Resting nearly 100% of your patron-generated revenue on the relationship between two individuals seems crazy, yet it’s a risk and challenge that many arts organizations face. This relationship is truly the critical lynchpin in creating integrated loyalty.

Seattle Repertory Theatre and Portland Center Stage have both done a remarkable job. By investing in the people who are serving patrons, they’ve built a foundation for integrated loyalty which is an inspiration for the field. I mentioned in my last blog the amazing team that came together to row in the same direction at Phoenix Theatre; as we grow, I worry that we could suffer the same silo-ed fate I am witnessing in theatres across the nation. I remain focused on tackling this million dollar question for Phoenix Theatre and the wider field.

How are you integrating your earned and contributed efforts and operationalizing them around patron loyalty?







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