Tell Us How You Really Feel

A 9/25/21 Facebook post from conductor David Leibowitz caught my eye because it’s hard to miss something that begins with “Dear Met Opera: F*** you for your incredibly horrible online ticket purchasing site.”

The full post provides more context:

Dear Met Opera: F*** you for your incredibly horrible online ticket purchasing site. Timing out before one can pay is not good customer relations.

I guess that when you don’t give a s*** about your patrons you don’t really try to make the process easy for them.

Update: and if seats are marked as available don’t make me waste time selecting them and THEN tell me they’re not available!

As a developer who works in this field, I can say that cart timers are indeed a necessity. They prevent inventory from getting gobbled up by bots and provide a bit of a FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) boost for ticket buyers to complete the transaction.

The typical implementation is a countdown clock at the top of the page that is sticky, meaning it remains at the top regardless how far you scroll down a page.

I can also say most groups don’t put a lot of time into designing or testing the UX (user experience) elements of this component but as you can see from Mr. Leibowitz’s experience, it can really sour a customer relationship.

I swung by the Met’s site to experience the cart timer and see what was up and I can say that it isn’t difficult to empathize with Leibowitz’s complaint.

  • While the timer was sticky on the actual cart page, it disappeared if I visited any other page. Ideally, it should carry through across all pages in order to drive home that FOMO felling.
  • Upon returning to the cart, the timer restarted at the same 15-minute starting point used when the tickets were originally added to the cart. This makes the timer far less valuable because a site visitor can keep a ticket wrapped up for an indefinite amount of time.
  • The site did display a dialog box to extend the hold once the timer reached the two-minute mark. But I had a difficult time testing the effectiveness when leaving the cart because the timer would always reset to 15-minutes.

I couldn’t explore Mr. Leibowitz’s final complaint but if accurate, it is highly unusual to see tickets placed in the cart become unavailable if the transaction was completed within the time limit. Likewise, it isn’t difficult to see why a potential ticket buyer would find this frustrating.

There certainly are times where removing all temporary locks and going with a first come, first serve approach to tickets is exactly what an organization needs. Having said that, when tickets aren’t removed from inventory during the countdown period, it is considered best practice to inform the ticket buyer (doubly so if genuine holds are standard operating procedure).

In the end, reserved seating introduces a lot of ticket buyer passion and to avoid incurring the darker side of that passion, it’s a good idea to use an empathetic approach to UX.

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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