Saturday, August 01, 2009

my theatrical unsubscribe

In a world where we unsubscribe daily from RSS feeds, Twitter follows, email marketing and other pushes to get our attention, I've just unsubscribed from a real-life theatre to which I've subscribed for almost 20 years. Here's what surprised me about that: It appears that they don't want to know why. Worse, sometimes they have tried to suggest to me why they're not hearing from me. But at no point has anyone inquired about my reasons. It's almost as if the marquee of the theatre's flashing a "Feedback Not Wanted" sign--and that's really what strikes me as odd in this day when feedback's not only widely available, but desirable in understanding your audience and building a relationship with them.

And we've had a relationship: I've bought two seats for 20 regular seasons, often buy additional guest seats or blocks of reserved tickets at its otherwise-free summer outdoor theater offerings. I subscribe to its email updates, newsletter, program guide, blog and Twitter accounts (the latter two not often updated). I've given sizeable regular donations as well as funds for an endowment campaign, a donation large enough to get my name on a bronze plaque in the lobby. They know where I like to sit, which plays I've missed, which ones I brought more people to see. I'm no celebrity, but they know me, and the lines of communication are wide open.

After failing to renew, these were the three messages I got over the course of four months,: 1) Are you having a tough economic time and wondering whether to renew? 2) Did you forget to renew? 3) Did you forget your annual donation, since it's the end of our fiscal year? All three suggest the theatre might know what I'm thinking. What they don't know: I've become dissatisfied with the content and ways the plays are staged and directed. There are themes I can predict from months ahead and what feels like a well-worn path to production--from plays that enjoy many interpretive options. Not easy to fix, but worth knowing.

Here's where I think they missed the mark:
  • Not tracking my missed performances or those where I left early: I've actually voted with my feet a few times in the past two years, and it's not too difficult to figure out whose seats are empty. Missed performances get followup emails offering standby seats--and those could be used to elicit feedback in case it's wanted. Sending them to early departers also opens up a feedback loop that's currently closed.
  • Failing to use an open-ended approach: For a longtime subscriber, failing to renew is a big statement and not one made lightly. A phone call or letter eliciting feedback would've let me share my feedback without guessing at what it was.
  • Suggesting they knew what I was thinking: Framing their communications this way--Did you forget? Having a bad economic time?--suggests not only that they think they know the answer, but that they don't want to hear mine, if it's different.
  • Failing to use online and social tools effectively: My electronic connections to this theatre far outnumber the paper ones, but they're not using Twitter, Facebook or often even email to reach me, figure out my interests or make another connection loop.
I'm trying out a subscription to a jazz concert series instead (and have given them a donation) for the upcoming season. One promising sign: The big button on its website that says "FEEDBACK."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post, Denise! I hope the theater is reading your blog.

Keep up the great work,