What Do We Mean by “Audience Services?”

A broad term often used to encompass anything related to the front-of-house operations in theatre management: Audience Services. But what exactly do these “services” entail? A successful box office team must master the following skills: customer service, sales, and accessibility. These are the three pillars to support a winning front-of-house staff, and both the associates and leadership staff should prioritize these facets.

Customer
Service

Two
Words (well, sort of three) – Hospitality and Problem Solving. Customer service
is all about enhancing a guest’s experience. Because the Audience Services
staff is, by title, dedicated to serving the audience, helpfulness and warmth
must become second nature. While many corporate leadership teams may tell you
that “the customer is always right,” this does not have to be your approach. A
better way to interpret that sentiment is more along the lines of “the customer
should always leave feeling better than they arrived.” You will likely
encounter a guest who is NOT right – these situations are opportunities to
serve that guest to the best of your ability. Listen to their needs, voice your
empathetic concern, and try to find a way to make their experience more
positive while staying within your guidelines. Your organization can have
boundaries and excellent customer service – it’s all about creative thinking,
healthy communication, and kind interactions.

Sales

Tickets
are the obvious piece here – but a box office is tasked with so many smaller
pieces! The box office staff is also responsible for merchandise and subscription sales. Most
importantly, though, the Audience Services associates and leaders are charged
with selling the theatre: it’s culture, mission, and holistic work. The
audience meets the front-of-house team before they meet the art. With this in
mind, it is imperative that this staff is made of individuals that vehemently
believe in the theatre as a whole entity. A sales-pitch doesn’t have to feel
like a gimmick if the people making the sale truly believe in the work being
sold.

Accessibility
and Inclusivity

Accessibility
and inclusivity are finally being prioritized in a mainstream way. Theatre can,
and should be, a safe space for all people from all walks of life. However, the
task of taking responsibility for an organization’s accessible programming can
feel daunting, and often gets shuffled from desk to desk. Ultimately, this
should be within the role of the Audience Services team. Associates should be
trained in correct communication methods and sensitive terminology. Leadership
should actively seek ways to make the initial welcome and seating pathway as
fluid as possible for guests of all abilities. A few key tips to start thinking
about making your space more inclusive:

Wheelchair
ramps and accessible entrances. Designated
quiet spaces in the lobby for guests who may experience overstimulation. Do
not ask for government IDs at will-call. This
puts gender non-conforming guests in a tricky spot if their license is not
updated with their preferred pronouns and identifying characteristics A
good way to confirm a guest’s reservation is with a confirmation email, sent after purchase.
Provide open captions on designated nights of
the week.Offer
a “Pay What You Can” night to encourage people of different socioeconomic
statuses to attend.

If you can imagine a
life dedicated to the service of a theatre and their guests, then Audience
Services may be a fantastic place to kick-off your career in theatre management. This department is
entirely driven by the want and need to make the theatre a welcoming space for
all guests. By actively tending to guests’ needs, maintaining an optimistic
space, and working diligently to improve your inclusivity, your team will start
your audience’s night with a smile.

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