Uncaging The Ticket Office Staff

Ken Davenport made a post last month about the way the New York City subway system is shifting their practice. Since more subway riders are able to pay for rides with their credit cards and even have refillable Metro cards sent to their homes, there is less need for the booth attendants.

But, NYC has been slow to adopt any changes unlike other cities around the country.

Starting to sound familiar? Labor intensive? Slow to change? Tickets that can be received at home, or from a “machine.”

However, the booth attendants aren’t necessarily losing their jobs.

In the subway case, they are talking about allowing station agents to help passengers off the train, providing service to the riders looking as they stand on the tracks, etc. They are talking about getting them out of the glass box and interacting directly with our consumers.

Why? Because riders polled LIKE having the station agents. And I bet our ticket buyers LIKE having our box office attendees as well.

As we become more and more cashless, and as we become more print-at-home, maybe an idea is to allow our box office personnel to become even more of an integral part of our promotion and advertising team (they are the few folks that actually talk to our customers). Maybe we just get them out from behind those glass walls that, frankly, are so antithetical to any sales process (ever been to an Apple store? It’s no coincidence that their salespeople walk the stores, conducting transactions from a phone that fits in their pocket).

Davenport draws the line between the station attendant and the ticket office staff which has always been regarded as the first point of contact 95% of people have with an arts and cultural organization.

About two years ago I made a similar post about using technology to unmoor the ticket office from a permanent physical location in a lobby. (Check it out, there were some good comments.) Davenport takes the next step astutely noting that the function of physically transferring tickets to someone is becoming less necessary whereas personal contact with visitors is just as, if not more, important.

Personally, knowing the subway station attendant would be getting out of those booths makes me relieved on their behalf. Ever since I was a kid (this is back to when “Y” tokens were used) those booths made me feel anxious because the attendants looked like they were imprisoned in the claustrophobic cubes while everyone else was free to travel about.

Since it has been pretty apparent in a number of places I have worked that the ticket office was the last space an architect designed, this is probably an experience shared by a lot of ticketing staff.

Getting the staff out among the visitors may bring a constructive psychological and perceptual change to the whole relationship.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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1 thought on “Uncaging The Ticket Office Staff”

  1. I don’t know about getting subway ticket sellers out of their booths. The booths may be uncomfortable, but they always struck me as the safest places in the subway. I suspect that a lot of the ticket sellers prefer interacting with their customers with a layer of bullet-proof glass separating them.

    At a theater, I’d like the will-call window or return window to be in a fixed, well-marked location—I don’t want to have to hunt for someone who can handle what should be a straightforward transaction. I recently went to a will-call window to pick up tickets, only to find out that they had been mailed to me—luckily the staff person was both friendly and competent, and in less than a minute had reprinted the tickets and given them to me. (When I got home, I found that the tickets were indeed sitting on the sideboard, where they had been for the past 3 months—I’d just forgotten they were there.)

    At a different theater, I had spent over an hour trying to buy 2 season tickets plus one additional ticket for a pair of shows. The software was set up so that buying the pair of shows required selecting the two tickets separately and adding them to the cart to get the 2-show discount, but the season tickets required paying for the tickets before you could select the shows. This weird setup was not explained anywhere on the site, and the when I called the ticket office they were not much help in figuring it out (and were, frankly a bit rude about it). Having friendly competent ticket staff is important, particularly when badly written software is being used for the on-line sales—someone has to untangle the mess.

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