How Theatre Royal Sydney is putting the theatregoer centre stage

Departing from convention, the venue now has its own CRM to push deeper personalisation and valuable insights for itself and stakeholders

As one of Australia’s oldest theatrical institutions, Theatre Royal Sydney might sometimes take its cues from theatre houses of New York and London, staging shows like Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill. But audiences could be surprised to learn this also extends to how it manages customer relations.  

“We're sort of following in the footsteps of what they do on Broadway and in the West End, in that we're doing our own ticketing,” Theatre Royal Sydney head of customer experience, Houri Tapiki, told CMO.  

As the venue undergoes a huge renovation and refurbishment, it’s aiming to create an excellent customer experience by moving away from the usual commercial theatre ticketing and distribution model. Instead, it’s adopted a new CRM and ticketing platform ahead of the imminent re-opening in early December.  

The venue's aim is threefold: Grow traffic, convert more visitors to the site and run marketing campaigns. But it’s not just about making it easier to buy tickets online. The venue wanted to improve how it communicates with customers and provide a better degree of personalisation with shows that might appeal.  

“It is about being available and responsive when a customer prefers to talk on the phone or in person rather than digitally. It is about knowing the value of our customers and making them advocates for our venue by offering them the best experience possible,” Tapiki said.  

Owning data  

Now part of Trafalgar Entertainment, the global live entertainment company wanted to prioritise customer experience, starting right at the point of purchase.  

When looking to build a central store of data and consolidate marketing activity within a unified platform in 2020, Theatre Royal Sydney adopted HubSpot, the first in the business group to implement this platform. It’s been quite a departure in that the major ticketing partners typically have all of their ticketing run through an external platform.  

“Generally speaking, venues don't hold their own CRM at all, they just use the data that they get from those sales from Ticketmaster, for example, and they might do campaigns through things like MailChimp and so on,” Tapiki explained.  

Theatre Royal’s approach is about making sure the customer journey is controlled and delivering not only what’s needed for customers, but also for producers hiring a venue in terms of maximising revenue, she added. 

“So we went down the path of implementing our own ticketing solution, hiring our own full-time staff who run the box office and run the ticketing customer service inquiries. Then with all the insights and data we're creating by selling our own tickets, we needed somewhere to house and analyse the data, and make sure we're using it in the right way,” Tapiki continued. “That's when we decided to go down the road of partnering with a CRM platform.”  

Adopting HubSpot has enabled seamless API integration with platforms such as Ticketek as a third-party ticketing agent, ensuring it can tap into inventory and sell tickets out of Theatre Royal’s own ticketing platform. Theatre Royal Sydney can also still utilise Ticketek data and insights as well as the millions of records it holds, giving the venue the best of both worlds.  

“We can also push our events through that platform, which is still being transacted via our ticketing system, which means that the inventory is controlled centrally,” Tapiki said.  

While this is a case of starting from scratch, it’s nonetheless building out its own customer database, while the integration drives sales to its own website. “We can do both through the one platform,” she said.  

Doing away with expensive, clunky, legacy CRM systems many performance venues have, the new system will let the venue tap into new resources like more data analysis, last-minute sales features and the like.  

“That's something that hasn't really been done yet. And I think it will, it’s definitely the way forward. That's how London operates; that’s how the US operates,” Tapiki added.    

Pushing further into personalisation  

Theatre Royal Sydney’s website is now the primary ticket seller for all performances, providing personalised customer experience, while enabling third-party ticket partner, Ticketek, and marketing agent, TodayTix, plus others to sell tickets for its shows.  

As part of this, it’s also adopted NLiven, a mobile-first ticketing solution that includes multiple payment options including Apple Pay, Afterpay and PayPal. As the restoration of Theatre Royal Sydney nears completion, a virtual reality preview of the theatre will also be available, providing customers with a view from their seats prior to completing a purchase.   

While Covid lead to theatre closures and performance cancellations, it showed the value of responsive customer service. That’s particularly important when it comes to personal events like theatre shows, something Tapiki found is often missing.  

“I've come from a long stint of working for a major ticketing company, and with all the amazing technology and data that's available, that’s the thing I found that was really missing,” she explained. “You're just a number in a big machine when you're working with those big ticketing agents. Whereas with our platform, customer service inquiries are responded to almost immediately.  

“We're only dealing with our own venue and we're able to give that dedicated, almost concierge type of experience to all of our customers. It’s having that connection and really making them feel it's a venue they like, is easy to interact with, and they want to come back to.”  

It’s all part of the bigger push to deepen personalisation and customer engagement. The venue will adopt more marketing automation that starts with building a full profile of its customers, engagement levels, personalised messaging relevant to what they like to experience.  

Now about three-quarters through the process, Theatre Royal Sydney is already seeing improvements in email open rates and it’s looking for tighter attribution for advertising and social media engagement and A/B testing.  

“We want to make sure that when we're spending money on social media campaigns, we're spending the money in the right places, the engagement reaches who we want and the return on investment is at a level that we're comfortable with,” Tapiki said.  

Theatre Royal Sydney also wants to tap the analytics tools and be able to feed data and insights back to groups like the tourism board it has partnerships or sponsorship arrangements as well as show producers.  

“It's our job to make sure that that data is readily accessible,” Tapiki said.  

While it’s still very early days for reawakening the theatre scene, it’s still early days for the venue in its new CX journey.  

“From a post-Covid place, people will soon be getting out and enjoying live theatre again, and we're really positive and confident that's going to bounce back really well,” Tapiki added.

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