Patron Service, Patron Experience, and Patron Care

Last year, I cancelled a membership at one of Chicago’s premier art museums due to an issue with promised member benefits.

In this case, the museum designed a benefit to help sidestep a well-known pain point in the form of long entrance lines. It was simple: members receive expedited entry. It is an effective benefit that works great…until it doesn’t.

Adaptistration People 053Like many museums, this one does not permit patrons to carry long or heavy coats throughout the facilities and requires the use of coat check. But even though the museum provided efficient means for expedited member entry, once inside, members had to wait through the same coat check lines as all ticket buyers.

This made the expedited entry anything but expedited.

I contacted membership services after the first encounter and was told they appreciated the feedback, were aware of the issue, and would see about making changes. When asked if that might be a week or two, they informed me it wouldn’t be until the following winter.

Things Begin Going Downhill

I pointed out two options in the current coat check line configuration where a member queue could be easily inserted and membership services agreed it was a solution they were already considering and would likely institute. Once again, next season.

When asked about the delay, the representative explained those types of changes require meetings and final approval by an oversight board committee.

At this point, our communication had stretched out over a period of three weeks.

Ultimately, I conceded defeat and explained that once the museum has those changes in place, I would be happy to purchase a new membership. In the meantime, they could provide a prorated refund my current membership due to an otherwise avoidable interruption in the very first member benefit listed in their promotional material.

The Downhill Journey Accelerates

The museum informed me they did not offer refunds of any type and would no longer discuss the matter.

After pointing out the museum listed no publicly accessible refund policy on their website and no policy was referenced in the purchase receipt nor in the new member orientation materials, the VP of Member Services reached out.

The VP informed me that I must not care about the museum’s mission then attempted to shame me into acquiescence by declaring I must not love great art because anyone who did would never insist on a refund.

My reply prompted the museum to issue the requested prorated refund, but the entire ordeal served as a reminder why it’s important to spend time experiencing our own institutions from the patron’s perspective.

In this instance, the breakdown in member benefits was comparatively easy to address. But institutional inertia coupled with a decades-old nonprofit entitlement produced a toxic customer service environment that treats patrons as revenue generating livestock to be herded rather than patrons who choose where to spend their cultural dollars.

Lessons Learned

How does your organization handle patron experience, patron service, and patron care?

It’s that final item, where patrons interact with the comprehensive elements of our experiences and services, that could benefit from renewed focus.

While some elements such as experience and service may be out of many organization’s hands, overall care is something everyone can control.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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