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.