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The taming of the queue

DF Concerts founder Judith Clumpas has been a director at Auckland's Vector Arena since 2011. Now back at university, her thesis examines arena customer experience design

29 Nov 2016

Judith Clumpas, DF Concerts

Attempting to unravel the ‘curse of the queue’ at arenas has led me into broader territory, questioning a culture that treats customers like a herd, regarding long lines and customer disempowerment as a necessary evil, rather than a problem to be dealt with urgently. Service gamechangers Uber, Airbnb and Spotify have left the concert experience standing. I’m not talking about apps – there are plenty of those to go around – lack of a holistic approach to the customer experience journey sets us apart in a changing world, to our detriment.

Venues should participate in a co-created entertainment experience way beyond the generic provision of goods and services. Think of the airport experience: concertgoers merely submit in order to gain access to the thing they have actually paid for; the transformative experience that the ticket promises. Given the passion with which customers follow an artist (or yearn to lie on a Mediterranean beach), organisations should be strategically managing the experience, or risk losing repeat business for their territory. Sectors including banking, grocery and technology are successfully embracing service design thinking in order to reinvent the way people access goods and services, and it all begins with empathy for the user and a holistic approach to human-centred design.

In my opinion, the scale and fragmented nature of the customer journey is largely to blame, where management are disconnected and disempowered from playing out their true role as host. Reminiscing about our best concert experiences (and I’m not referring to the performance – we have little or no say in that sphere!), there was a vibe and anticipation in arriving at a truly cool music venue, be it bar, club or theatre. Usually, there would be a host character, a manager; the driving force behind the culture of the place. Contrast that to the soulless entertainment arenas we expect our audiences to embrace with similar passion. Such buildings have largely been created for sports or “entertainment” events, lacking the architectural features that allow for truly visceral pleasure and identity of purpose.

Combine that with the fragmented ticketing market and clamour of communication from artist, ticket agencies, promoter and media, and the customer is left wondering whose customer they are. In these days of naming rights deals, the true essence of the venue is trickier to demonstrate with any authenticity. Who has the duty of care? Who is the actual host? And what kind of host are they?

Step up to the plate, strip away your preconceptions and walk in customers’ shoes again, something those of us at the top-end of the venue profession may have not had to do for a long, long time

Concert arenas are typified by harsh lighting, industrial barricades, institutional-grade signage and subcontracted staffing with no real connection to the venue’s core purpose. There are a few notable exceptions, but generally our audiences are left to navigate their journey much as they would that airport. They are on their own. Addressing isolated issues is not the answer: I am calling for a multidisciplinary, human-centred and strategic approach to what is known in academic circles as a “wicked problem”.

Begin with empathy. Step up to the plate, strip away your preconceptions and walk in their shoes again; quite possibly something those of us at the top-end of the venue profession have not had to do for a long, long time.

Take your pass off; take public transport or try to park nearby; submit to processes over which you have no control; don’t pull favours, wait your turn; wonder what time the band starts; line up under fluorescent lighting to buy drinks in a queue that seems to be stationary; and try to have a great night out with your mates while you’re at it.

Work a few shifts on your own bar and door. Go incognito, wear the uniform… is it fun to work in your venue? If not, why not? Often these low-paid casual staff comprise the only human-to-human encounter in the customer experience journey, so it’s important. You might even enjoy it and remember why you came into this business in the first place!

Only then will you gain the true insights needed to foster the right culture within your organisation, and proactively design for the kind of future scenario and relationships we need to survive as an industry.

Solving queuing issues and associated disgruntlement are not simply a way of selling more beer; but a way of selling more concerts, and a means to business sustainability for us all. Let’s get some real results.


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