We Share Awesome

Posted by Ms. Devra L. Thomas, Oct 01, 2012 3 comments

Devra Thomas

How do you keep your audiences coming back for more? World-class art? A triple-digit marketing budget? How about making friends with them and creating an awesome experience from the moment they enter your space to the second they exit?

Scott Stratten, in last year’s NAMP Conference keynote speech, said, “We don’t share brochures. We don’t share logos. We share awesome. We share experiences.”

How is your organization crafting the total experience for your audience, or is it? Too often in the administrative world we get caught up in the questions of how we find new audiences and how we get those audiences to give us more money.

Those are valid questions, but exist in the before and after of the actual art experience. As administrators, we need to be more concerned with the “during” portion of the audience member’s visit, as this is the best time to turn them into friends. The customer’s personal experience with our organization does not begin when the lights go down, or when they stand in front of a painting, it begins the minute they pick up the phone to buy tickets or they step in the door for the show. It doesn’t end with the applause; actually, the goal is for it not to end, but to grow into a personally (and, yes, financially) valuable relationship.

Yes, the art itself is of the utmost importance. You don’t go to a restaurant, have a bad meal and exceptional service, and say, “Oh, I have to go there again, the food was awful, but that waiter!” But the reverse is often true: you can partake of a wonderful meal—or show—and have terrible service but go again because the product was good.

Imagine what would be said about your organization if you combined your great art with exceptional service: “I love coming here because you’re all always so friendly.” Or “I feel like I’m part of the family and wanted my friends to meet you.” Crafting an exceptional customer service mindset within your entire organization is the fastest way to start creating those awesome experiences that your audiences will share.

Exceptional customer service is not hard. It just takes commitment, and a little time, and a belief that every patron who walks through the door is a friend, not an amount, or a seat. If half of our patrons are returning, let’s greet them by name and engage with them as we would our personal friends.

For new patrons, ask questions beyond the “how did you find out about us” to start learning about the deeper reasons of why and how they participate in the arts. Even simple questions like “Who are you here with?”, “Do you have family in the area?”, or “Where did you go for dinner before the show?” will glean practical information for the organization and leave the customer feeling important at the same time.

These answers benefit the marketing department by providing information for better targeting ads or broadening that audience segment, and development staff, helping determine what ask would be most effective or donor perk the most beneficial. More than that, though, simply asking these questions, in person, at the event, will translate in the customer’s mind to you caring about them as an individual. Just as we use our art to comment on, translate, and illuminate the shared human experience, our customer service should reinforce that we are sharing this art with each other.

Providing exceptional customer service to go along with world-class art is one of the simplest ways to turn your audiences into raving fans, mainly because so few other organizations are doing it.

Developing personal relationships with your patrons increases their likelihood of bringing friends, spreading the word on the shows, returning for more art, and supporting the organization with contributions, all because we care enough to get to know them first.

3 responses for We Share Awesome


Ms. Devra L. Thomas says
October 03, 2012 at 3:13 pm

Amelia: yes, patron's point of view! We have to craft the experience: start by deciding what we want the customer's experience to be, then discover what they want their experience to be, and make sure to deliver on that vision!

Sara: I think that is one of the critical downsides of the "silo" mentality, that once we move into a marketing or development position, we lose all immediate contact with our core audiences. I firmly believe that everyone in an organization should spend time "on the frontlines": help hand out programs at a show or answer questions in a gallery or anywhere else that audiences are engaging in the art at that very moment.

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October 03, 2012 at 9:40 am

Great article, Devra, and thanks for linking to Will's article. Your philosophy of customer service is right on--great customer service does not begin and end with the show, but rather is involved with every interaction a patron has with an org. Looking at your customer service policies and systems from the patron's point of view is crucial, and as you say will "grow into a personally (and, yes, financially) valuable relationship."

And, congrats on the Cott Mail mention!

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Sara R. Leonard says
October 03, 2012 at 9:50 am

Devra! I love seeing your post here. The point from your post that has really stuck with me since I first read it is the idea that we are focusing too exclusively on the before and after. We spend time and money on our patron relationships before they enter our venues, and are hopefully spending time and money afterward to thank them, invite them back, and perhaps even ask about the experience. But, the most valuable moment we have with our patrons is when we are face to face with them in our spaces. I know it's made a difference in my patron relationships!

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