One-on-One: David Cushing, VP – Ticketing at SHN

David Cushing, VP of Ticketing, SHN

David Cushing, VP of Ticketing, SHN

Based in San Francisco, Shorenstein Hays Nederlander (SHN) is a market-leading theatrical entertainment organization that brought its ticketing operations and e-commerce in-house when it moved to AudienceView in 2010. Since then, David Cushing and his team have had complete control over pricing strategy, fees and all related revenue sources. We spoke with David to get some insight into the difference this control has made for SHN and how it aligns with their organizational goals.

AV: When SHN moved to AudienceView, one of the main drivers was to be able to control your pricing strategy and structure. What made SHN decide to take control?

David: One of the main drivers was to get everything back in-house, under our own control, across the board and that included our customers. We really wanted to customize customer service because previous to 2010, which is when we came over to AudienceView, the focus on customer service had kind of gone by the wayside, not only in the ticketing industry but pretty much across the board in many, many businesses. SHN has been able to develop pricing that is more customer-friendly and allows staff to focus on customer service. The flexibility to take a whole new approach in this area allows SHN to cover costs, but it also creates a revenue stream for us to provide deeper, more engaged, proactive service to our customers. The process that brought SHN to AudienceView involved establishing why we charge service fees, how this is communicated to the customer and how it impacts SHN’s bottom line.

AV: What was SHN’s final deciding factor to go with AudienceView?

David: We liked the product. We especially liked the people. One of the things for us, and I think for any good business decision, is you’re not only looking at what the company has to offer you. You’re also looking at the mindset and culture of the company because you are creating a new relationship. While we wanted to have flexibility and functionality within the product, we also wanted to be with people that we respected and wanted to partner with.

AV: How do you determine what fees to charge on your tickets?

David: First, we establish what SHN needs to support its operation. Then, we consider what is fair to the customer. Finally, we research the broader market to arrive at the per-ticket fee.

AV: How do you think your customers view the per-ticket fee? Do you get the sense that it is something they’ve accepted like we do with airline fees and baggage charges?

David: For a long time, with the airline industry too, fees were add-ons. There was a lot of customer frustration because by the time they got to checkout, suddenly their ticket cost had increased. We only charge a per-ticket and a per-order fee. We don’t charge for print-at-home. We don’t charge for will-call. We wanted to eliminate a lot of those add-ons that we saw in other providers.

In October of 2012, SHN began blending the per-ticket fee into the stated ticket price for single ticket purchases. When adding tickets to the shopping cart, the customer gets a pop up that states ‘all listed prices include a per-ticket fee’, so it’s front-facing to the customer. SHN’s buyers now understand that stated prices include the service fee. I think that’s been great for customers and certainly clarifies our messaging to them.

AV: SHN is taking an approach that is similar to the UK with the recent ruling around the requirement to have transparency with fees. Do you see this as something that could come to North America in the future? What do you think of fee transparency?

David: I think it’s great, I do think it will happen. I think we are only one of the companies that is currently [being transparent with our fees], but I think more and more people are going to start doing it because they think transparency and openness is important to consumers.

AV: SHN has been using AudienceView for a few years now. You’ve got your ticket fee structure in place and it hasn’t changed. What would you say to an organization considering a system like AudienceView versus a different type of system? To an organization that may be hesitant to make an upfront investment?

David: Ten years ago, as a small company, it would not have been financially possible to bring our ticketing operations and service back in-house because of the mainframe that you needed just to just have a ticketing system work. Software technology evolution has totally changed that. When we decided to leave our last provider and actually explore bringing it in-house, it was because it was now financially feasible for us to do that. Now we’re fully self-sufficient, we’re not controlled by somebody else who tells us what we can or can’t do. We get to make all the decisions for our business and our customers. We are responsible for everything as far as our ticketing life is concerned. [Bringing ticketing in-house with the AudienceView partnership] has given us the flexibility to try new things and see if it works. We have a lot more ability to experiment with how we use the system and that’s challenging for us, but it’s also really exciting because we have that flexibility… [and] I do think you have to invest money to make money.

AV: I’m sure it has had a great impact on your overall customer experience as well?

David: Absolutely! Of course money and time were considerations [to bring ticketing in-house], but a real driving factor was we wanted to personally serve our customers. Before bringing this in-house with Audience View, SHN did not have a phone room in San Francisco; it was somewhere else…This distant phone room didn’t know the inner workings of our theatres and policies. Now, SHN’s staff work in physical proximity to the theatres, regularly attend shows in SHN venues and have a great feel for the experience. Therefore, the customer has a better experience because they are talking to highly trained, knowledgeable people. Again it is controlling our brand, the message and communication and that is very important to us.

AV: Thanks, David!