You probably saw the news articles regarding the recent crash of Ticketmaster, apparently caused by overwhelming demand for Taylor Swift tickets. The companies involved stated that the volume of traffic “eclipsed any previous peak by a factor of four.” They attributed the issue to the prevalence of bots and other circumstances that are either outside of their control or indicative of the world we now live in. Another ticketing fiasco made the news just a few weeks ago involving celebrity Bad Bunny.
As someone who has been in the middle of ongoing “ticketing issues” that appear to plague the entertainment and attractions space more than other sectors, I can’t help thinking about this problem with a point of view that has been shaped by my decade of frustration. Why do we still fail to meet the needs of the customers, fans and visitors?
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Paper or hard tickets had their limitations, but in many ways, they were not much worse for the consumer. We hoped to eliminate waiting in long lines in the digital age, but we have not. We thought scalping and opportunism would be gone, but the reality is there is more price gouging than ever. We wanted to eliminate fraud, but that has not happened either. Why hasn’t more progress been made?
Big ticketing providers never developed a business plan that is shaped around real customer needs. Some recent editorials have focused on the Justice Department opening a broad antitrust investigation of Ticketmaster parent Live Nation. But it is the Ticketmaster model - not the company - that interests me more.
Our industries are glutted with providers: Gateway, Acesso, Sabre, Galaxy, Schubert, etc. The list grows every day as new vendors leap into the already fragmented space and predict their ability to solve the decades-old problem.
Their solutions, though, are typically not founded in customer needs but in providing something the venues might want, better tracking, dynamic pricing options and better website and e-commerce compatibility.
Those advancements are not “bad” in themselves; however, they still fail to place the end user - the customer - at the center of the experience. This matters because in the travel experiences sector, guest satisfaction is the lifeblood of the business. Until the ticketing providers get that, the struggle will continue.
Here are the top three problems we must overcome:
- Ticket providers are too far removed from the guest: Speak to anyone in the travel experiences sector, and you will quickly gather a list of analog and manual processes that they have in place to handle the gaps and problems that every provider has within their system. Ironically, all of the providers are paid on a fee-per-ticket or transaction basis - they get paid even when the transaction goes sideways and requires analog or human intervention. I wonder how many problems with these systems would get resolved if they had to handle the calls and complaints that are dumped on the suppliers.
- They are not collaborative: Part of the issues we all face with ticketing is the fragmentation of systems. At one time in my work history, completing transactions involved processing orders through four different systems and then bundling them together. That is a nightmare for the customer and for the travel agent; surely these vendors would collaborate and provide API that allowed all four to speak to each other? No. Because they all wanted the whole pie, not just their very large piece. Allowing differing systems to connect and work together using a common language and spec (like the Salesforce CRM model) would be a huge step in the right direction, but it is one that is resisted by all vendors.
- They overvalue their role in the client journey: Bottom line is that people are going to go and see Taylor Swift regardless of how they need to buy a ticket. She could do cash only at the door and still sell out. But Ticketmaster thinks it’s their right to add fees and charges. This is why Pearl Jam has been fighting with them for years. They do little more than manage a transaction, and they receive fees that resemble gratuities at a high-end restaurant.
Reports like the ones about Taylor Swift and Bad Bunny are great news because they expose a problem that spans multiple industries - one that in many ways has been hidden from consumers. More and more customers are growing frustrated with policies and situations that they learn are not caused by the theme park, attraction or museum, but rather by a third-party processor.
If we have learned anything over the last 20 years, it is that consumer sentiment leads to new solutions; Uber, eBay, Spotify and many others are great examples of commercial backlash. I’ll bet a few young college grads are working in their garage or basement on a solution that is customer-driven and customer-centric. When that product arrives on the scene, the old model will be finished forever.
About the author...
Frank Belzer is chief sales and marketing officer at Icon Park