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Venues: Our Cultural Hubs

NEC Group's Guy Dunstan responds to some of the challenges and trends he and his team are identifying through UK venues customer feedback

29 Jun 2023

After attending ILMC 35 and reflecting on conversations I and the rest of the team had with other venues, it became clear that UK venues are experiencing a post-pandemic surge in customer feedback. As a result, we have had to amend our approach to delivering outstanding customer experience.

Our arenas have the benefit of an in-house Business Intelligence team as part of the NEC Group that can track trends in customer behaviour and the changing needs that continue to challenge venues like ours.

Due to the pandemic and a resurgence in press coverage of Martyn’s Law and the Manchester Arena Inquiry, there has been more anxiety around attending crowded events. Additional information, increased safety measures, and empathetic staff are needed to reassure visitors. Whilst legislation is not expected to be fully implemented until late 2025/early 2026, we have already been implementing the recommendations from the Inquiry and the measures expected to be included in Martyn’s Law.

We have also tracked an increase in audience mobility issues and accessibility requirements. Since returning to business after the pandemic, mobility needs for some customers have changed significantly. Due to the number of rescheduled shows and the length of time since those shows went on sale, many customers weren’t aware they would need more support when first booking their tickets, whether that be changing needs or concerns requiring the need to be in specific accessible locations in the venue.

Our team have tracked a change in the language of those who communicate with us. There is far more emotive wording in feedback from customers, particularly related to spend.

Customers are also more vocal and quicker to escalate their feedback to senior figures in the business rather than following the established customer service channels.

Post-pandemic, customers are eager to make up for lost time with events becoming a special occasion, which is a positive position for us all, and has been reflected through strong ticket sales and spend-per-head despite the pressure on disposable income. However, the current cost-of-living crisis poses challenges for both customers and businesses. As prices increase, the cost of visiting venues also rises. As a result, there is a greater focus on providing value for money to customers. So, how do we overcome these challenges?

“On the ground, support is more important than ever to provide customer reassurance and enhance their experience”

During the onset of the pandemic, we adopted an NEC Group-level approach called Venue Protect. This incorporated measures that provided safe and secure environments for customers, visitors, staff, contractors, and partners, plus a comprehensive communications suite of assets providing clear, effective communications for all stakeholders to ensure compliance with our Venue Protect measures.

Post-pandemic now includes safety and security measures, a revised bag policy, and visitor wellbeing initiatives such
as the Ask for Angela and Ask For Clive initiatives. In addition, our customer hierarchy of needs has evolved. Our focus is on two fundamental areas: B2B customers and B2C visitors. Internally, we continue to have a strong focus on feedback. This shapes communications to customers, staff training and recognition, measuring new initiatives, identifying areas for improvement, and supports where we need to focus investment in our facilities.

On the ground, support is more important than ever to provide customer reassurance and enhance their experience. More dedicated staff now work in the disabled areas, and we have increased our visitor management team to help with queue management, customer reassurance, and crowd safety outside the venue. We introduced Mental Health First Aiders before the pandemic, with one gig seeing 100 service users in one night. We now have 20 trained group staff with more due.

Business agility and clear, reassuring communications are key, and through this and our focus on giving our customers an outstanding customer experience at our venues, reassuringly we have maintained our pre-pandemic customer feed- back scores. Technology will play an increasingly important role with our customers, providing instant customer service updates, a frictionless customer journey, the ability to promote forthcoming shows, and opportunities for customers to upgrade their event experience.

We continue to face the headwinds of the wider economy, but with robust customer experience measures in place, we can meet our customer needs.

Guy Dunstan is the managing director ticketing & arenas at Birmingham-based NEC Group, UK 


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