Ticketing in the time of corona

Ticket Factory/NEC Group

How a leading ticketing agent kept the phone lines open as the pandemic took hold.

For Mark Porter, Head of Contact Services at The Ticket Factory, the morning of February 26 was no different from any other.

“I’ve always been an early bird and I try to watch the news before heading into the office each day. During the first few weeks of February, I’d watched with interest as a new virus spread in China, but I hadn’t thought much more of it.”

It soon felt a lot closer to home, as later that day, Tudor Grange Academy in Birmingham sent pupils home as a precaution after six students returned from a trip to Italy. At just seven miles from The Ticket Factory’s office, the pandemic was suddenly right on the doorstep.

As more schools began to close, contingency planning was underway at The Ticket Factory. As a supplier of ticketing services for prestigious brands such as the RHS and British Athletics, The Ticket Factory already had a detailed plan to ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster. Fortunately, this plan covered remote working, but it had never been tested for an extended period of time. Over the coming days, staff began trialling how effectively they could work from home, and the business was divided into two teams that would alternate working remotely if it became necessary.

At the same time, The Ticket Factory’s Management Information team began overlaying ticket buyer data with information from the World Health Organisation. As official box office for the NEC, Utilita Arena Birmingham and Resorts World Arena, it was important to be able to supply these venues with information on who would be attending their events and what location they were arriving from.

By mid-March a number of events had cancelled or rescheduled as COVID-19 began to take hold in the UK, and every member of staff at The Ticket Factory began working from home.

“It really was a triumph of planning” Mark recalls. “Our customer advisors had tested all their equipment in advance and because our Contact Centre software is cloud-based, we were able to divert incoming calls to mobile phones within 10 minutes – customers continued to receive the same high level of service we pride ourselves on.”

As the days went by, more and more events cancelled or rescheduled. One particularly high-profile event generated 15,000 email enquiries within an hour of its cancellation. While many parts of the live events industry were beginning to shut down, Mark’s Contact Centre team had never been busier.

Although there was still plenty of work to do, ticket sales had plummeted and the business was forced to start furloughing staff under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Nevertheless, Richard Howle, Director of Ticketing for The Ticket Factory was keen to take a sensible approach. “Lots of businesses decided to furlough as many employees as they could, as quickly as they could. But we knew this wasn’t right for our customers, our clients or our staff. We took a phased approach to ensure we always had the correct level of resource in place. I’m immensely proud that we’re the only major ticketing company to have kept our phone lines open during the pandemic.”

A much-reduced Marketing team also continued to engage with customers through a new weekly content email. “We’re in the business of selling tickets, but nobody was in the mood for buying them” says Richard. “Instead our Marketing team began collating content to keep people occupied while they were stuck at home. And the response was fantastic. We saw a five percentage point increase in our email open rates as well as hundreds of positive comments from customers and clients.”

In the four months since lockdown began, the team at The Ticket Factory have cancelled or rescheduled over 200 events and handled 142,000 customer enquiries.

Both Mark and Richard agree it’s been an incredibly challenging time but planning and teamwork have helped the business overcome many of the obstacles.

Looking to the future, Richard strikes an upbeat tone: “We’ve already started working with our clients and the NEC Group to facilitate socially distanced events, track and trace, and other technology solutions to start getting events back on sale. But while technology has been incredibly important over the last few months, the pandemic has highlighted how much we crave human interaction. At its heart, The Ticket Factory is a people business and we’ll continue putting our customers and clients first for many years to come.”