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29 Feb 2016

Do I need to bash heads together? How to get the best out of your ticket vendor and web agency

By: Nadine Ishani

At the inaugural Ticketing Professionals Conference, Nadine outlined her top 5 things that you can do to make your online ticketing awesome.

Since we work with a lot of arts venues, we get asked to do a lot of integrations with ticketing suppliers. Over the years we have have worked with several different ticketing providers and we are aware that everyone - clients, web, and ticketing all feel that these projects could go better and create better products for customers. So how can we work together to make things better for everyone?

In no particular order - here are 5 things you can do to make your website-ticketing integration project less arduous, maybe even awesome:

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  1. Focus on your users
  2. Assign a project manager
  3. Allocate sufficient budget and resources
  4. Ongoing testing and measurement
  5. Write a brief for your online ticketing

1. Focus on your users

Why? Well, for one, they are the ones you want to keep happy. Then there's also that four-lettered word that begins with S...

How many conversations have you been part of now where someone talks about silos and the lack of communication across departments in businesses? (it's not an arts thing - it's a business thing). This can be a real problem for projects like online ticketing integrations which require input from at least two teams. Box office invariably manage the ticketing software and supplier relationship and marketing do the equivalent for the website. The project may also include aspects of donations, memberships and merchandising which then additionally require the input of a venues development and hospitality teams (at least). 

The project must focus on your users - whether they are internal or external, ie your customers. They must come first - above all else - and everyone needs to work together to give them the best results that they can. This includes any suppliers working on the project. The client knows their users best and is best placed to listen to them to identify trouble spots. Suppliers can suggest and implement solutions.

User experience is a well-known term used in software development and this is basically what it comes down to. Putting your customers at the heart of your project gives everyone a shared, single focus. 

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2. Assign a project manager

This can be someone internal or someone you bring in specifically to run the project. It must be someone who can:

  • work easily with colleagues across all the departments involved
  • understand the technology
  • manage the suppliers 
  • make decisions

If you use an internal member of staff, make sure that they have sufficient time available to manage the project. It's a big piece of work and there are lots of moving parts to stay on top of. Make sure that they have a solid understanding of the technology or - at the very least - the capacity and the desire to learn. Here are some tech terms that you might need on a project like this - just to get you started.

It's worth considering bring in expertise to run the project. An external project manager exists outside of your operational silos and this way of working can be an effective way of cutting through barriers. They would work closely with the project team and leave them with enough knowledge to take on the day to day of managing the integration once launched. Several venues who responded to a short survey we ran identified project management as a key problem area in their integration projects.

Whichever way you choose to go, this project manager must be working with a dedicated project team who can bring in relevant departmental expertise as and when required. This set up is mirrored at both the web and ticketing suppliers. Project managers are the day to day point of contact - working closely with each other and their own project teams. Sometimes specific expertise is required and project managers can help to identify who they need to get the right answers quickly.

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3. Allocate sufficient budget and resources

There are various things to budget and resource for and this is more just a reminder to consider the online ticketing side of the equation. The budget range is quite wide for the integration alone as it depends on the systems and the complexity of the final solution. Often we know that clients are installing new ticketing but the cost of the online integration has not been budgeted for. Similarly, the budget for a website build is often fixed and limits what we can deliver.

Project management costs should be considered. That might be a financial cost of hiring someone. If using an internal project manager, it may be work that has to be sacrificed or re-allocated for the duration of the project, and perhaps offering training to support staff.

It's always worth holding something back for post-launch. No matter how well the project goes, once the site is live and out in the real world, you may find that you've overlooked something. Have a plan as to how you're going to tackle these issues as they arise.

Online ticketing is not a one-off project. If you don't maintain it, it will fall behind and that can frustrate customers as well as impact on the level of support available to you. Ticketing suppliers are constantly developing their products. These developments are for your benefit and your customers benefit so have a plan as to how often you intend to review and incorporate new features that will make your customers happier. Some of those will involve changes on the web side of things too. If ever in doubt, ask your suppliers.

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4. Ongoing testing and measurement

You can start this right now. Open a new tab and buy a ticket on your own venue website.

Go back to point 1 - your users - and develop some user journeys. This is very straightforward: just imagine you're a customer and think of all the different ways you might interact with the website. Some example user journeys might be:

  • Google the name of a show you know is on and buy a mid-priced ticket for it
  • Start from the homepage and browse to a random show to buy a ticket
  • ‘Forget’ your password and need to reset it
  • Once you’ve got something in your basket, get distracted by something else and come back 30mins later to finish buying the ticket
  • Buy a ticket on your mobile phone
  • Make a donation

Make notes as you go, identify the:

  1. things that delight you
  2. things that irritate you

Share the second list with your existing suppliers and see if you can work with them to find some quick solutions and improvements. Do this on a regular basis on difference devices and browsers. These two things keep changing so something that works today may not work so well in 6 months time. If you don't test it you'll never know.

Project testing

There will be a testing period during your integration project. Make sure you do this testing thoroughly. Use those user journeys again and try out all of those on the new system. Get people who haven't been involved in the project to test it out on a range of devices and browsers. Collate all their feedback and relay it to your suppliers via the appropriate methods in advance of the final day of testing (if you can!). This may mean you need to ask your suppliers for test/staging environments and test credit card details so that you can test the complete user experience. Your suppliers will also be carrying out testing but many hands make light work and this stage will often double up as User Acceptance Testing (UAT) so make sure you are happy with the final result.

Listen to your customers

If one of your aims is to sell more tickets online and fewer over the phone or at the counter then you'll want to make sure that you're still listening to your customers. Setting up a proper analytics plan can help you do that. This involves more than just popping a Google Analytics code on your website and looking at it sporadically. You can develop a more complex plan that sends you regular reports to help you identify trends and problem areas.

If customers have trouble with your technology and do contact you - make sure your staff know what questions to ask so that you can pass customers technical feedback on to your suppliers and get it resolved. You can always take contact details for that customer and let them know when you've fixed it so that they know they are important to you.

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5. Write a brief for your online ticketing

Having read many website briefs and worked with a number of clients who have changed their ticketing supplier during their relationships with us - this is an area that can be improved. I also spoke to a few ticketing suppliers who said that they rarely receive a brief that specifically focuses on the online aspect of their product. Suppliers need to be led by our clients - so tell us what you want.

Key things to include in your brief are:

  • Identify the suppliers working on the project and what they're responsible for. Sometimes one or other will be new to you at this point so this is worth sharing
  • Include examples of integrations you like - try to include examples from your suppliers but if you can't find any, fear not, show us what you'd like to do
  • Outline which features from the ticketing supplier you intend to use (memberships, donations, merchandise etc...)
  • What do you want to acheive: remember those two lists you made when you tested your website? These are a really good starting point in terms of breaking down what's good and bad - what you want to keep and what you want to improve
  • Budget: Integrations come in many forms - your budget will help your ticketing and web suppliers gauge what level of integration you can afford and provide realistic solutions. There’s more than one way to do an integration and if we know what you want to fix then we can work together to provide alternative, affordable solutions
  • Timelines

Share this with both suppliers. Then let’s all get together and talk about it!

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Copies of my slides in PDF format are available to download below - I've included my presenter notes in one version to make things a little clearer!

Thanks for everyone involved in organising the inaugural Ticketing Professionals Conference. There were some great talks and insight as well as it being a great opportunity to share experiences, meet new people and catch up with familiar faces. I look forward to 2017!

Further reading

Your theatre's website needs work by Libby Penn from SpektrixYou and Your Agency: the perfect team by Sam Scott Wood from Cog DesignWebsite Procurement: Why your web project will fail before it has begun by Paul Boag [video]

Get in touch about your next project!