A post on Drucker Exchange, When Process Is a Prison, got me thinking about ticket office operations. I am sure the content of the entry could be applied to a hundred things that happen every day in arts organizations, but that is what bubbled to the top in my mind.
“Procedures can only work where judgment is no longer required, that is, in the repetitive situation for whose handling the judgment has already been supplied and tested,” Drucker wrote in The Practice of Management. “In fact, it is the test of a good procedure that it quickly identifies the situations that, even in the most routine of processes, do not fit the pattern but require special handling and decision based on judgment.”
I pretty much started the trajectory of my arts management career in the box office a couple decades ago. Since then the rules governing exchanges, returns and other transactions have seemed to move from matters of policy and procedure to matters of judgement. These days having a ticket office manager you can trust to make good judgments on behalf of the organization is as, if not more, important than their technical ability to troubleshoot the computer system you are using to sell your tickets.
Granted, box office operations are probably technically more a matter of policy than procedure, but Drucker’s general sentiment applies.
The ticket office has always been viewed as the first place of contact with customers where good manners and efficient processing of orders is prized. But now customer service interactions are almost more important than the product being sold, given customer expectations and their ability to almost instantly report their disappointment to 1000 of their closest friends.
Consistently providing good service doesn’t necessarily mean treating everyone equally because everyone views their situation as special and may expect you to have some degree of awareness of those circumstances. This is why customer relationship management (CRM) software is viewed as so important by businesses at large (though you wouldn’t know it when you call your cable or cell phone provider). Many arts organizations don’t have the resources to support sophisticated CRM software so human judgment and good note keeping becomes all the more important for them.
Perhaps my perception of the change is based on the fact that I have gradually moved into a position of generating the policy rather than enforcing it and I am a big softy. But I suspect there are many others who will confirm that things have changed from the 70s and 80s when it was “No Refunds, No Exchanges, No Exceptions” for non-subscribers. Now it is more akin to “No Refunds, No Exchanges, Except for the Exceptions.”
As Drucker is quoted, the best procedure recognizes those times that are exceptions to the procedure. I think that some times changing environment requires you to recognize that it is no longer useful to maintain set policies and procedures in favor of general guidelines and good judgment.