What the Arts Need to Learn from a Shoe Salesman

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Photo by David GallagherCreative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

Last week, I took my family to see HAIR, which should be one of Broadway’s big hits this season. (New definition of happiness: when “Berger” invites your young daughter on stage to join him for “Let the Sun Shine In”!)

That’s the good news. The bad news? Family of four cost $500. Yes, $500. When I went to the box office to pay, the ticket seller could not have been more morose. She did not care if I bought one ticket, four tickets, or walked away without buying any tickets. She treated me as though I was interrupting her from something else, and something much more important. I wasn’t a customer; I was an inconvenience.

This is the first public face of a company from which I am supposed to buy $500 worth of goods??

In the arts, this is not the exception, but all too common. How many arts organizations, at all levels of employees, are focused on the audience as customers — and as customers for repeat business?

Tony Hsieh has something to teach the arts. For Tony, as the leader of the online retailer Zappos, customer service is not a department, but the entire company. Think about an arts venue where the ticket taker, the prop master, the electrician, admin staff, and all the artists are focused on the reason for their jobs: the customer.

Speaking at SXSW (the festival destination for interactive gurus, filmmaking indies, along with our bang-it-out bands), Hsieh laid out his approach: get the company culture right and the customer culture will follow.

All of Zappos’ customer interaction is focused on creating a repeat customer. Zappos is an online company, but what is its most effective marketing weapon? The phone. Every hire at Zappos has to spend time on the phone with customers.

How many people in any arts organization have the experience of dealing directly with their customers, the audience?

Here’s a test: ask someone what they think of any company (airlines, book seller, clothing store) and their response will be about customer service. In other words, you can have a great product on stage, but if you treat your customers like crap they are not going to come back. The arts are a sector that can least afford treating the customer as an inconvenience.

Hsieh’s overarching vision is to create happiness for his customers that starts with his employees. He uses tech tools and management approaches to allow his employees to become stakeholders in each other’s, and the company’s, success. It’s not about Zappos’ financial resources, it’s about the determination to inspire his colleagues and his customers.

So, let’s learn from one of the world’s best shoe salesmen. To create great customer service, start with your company’s culture. Here are Tony Hsieh’s top ten principles for his employees:

  1. Deliver “Wow” through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More with Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

You want to deepen the connection to your current audience? You want to reach new audiences? It’s time for the arts to become the leaders in customer service.

- Bill Reichblum

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6 Responses to “What the Arts Need to Learn from a Shoe Salesman”

  1. Topics about Arts » KadmusArts - where culture speaks » Blog Archive » What the Arts …
    March 19th, 2009 18:07
    1

    [...] Bill added an interesting post today on KadmusArts – where culture speaks » Blog Archive » What the Arts …Here’s a small reading(New definition of happiness: when “Berger” invites your young daughter on stage to join him for “Let the Sun Shine In”!) That’s the good news. The bad news? Family of four cost $500. Yes, $500. When I went to the box office to pay, … [...]

  2. Topics about Arts » What the Arts Need to Learn from a Shoe Salesman
    March 20th, 2009 08:27
    2

    [...] Bill placed an interesting blog post on What the Arts Need to Learn from a Shoe SalesmanHere’s a brief overview(New definition of happiness: when “Berger” invites your young daughter on stage to join him for “Let the Sun Shine In”!) That’s the good news. The bad news? Family of four cost $500. Yes, $500. When I went to the box office to pay, … [...]

  3. Maki
    March 20th, 2009 13:17
    3

    That is an enlighting article!

  4. KadmusArts - where culture speaks » Blog Archive » Top Ten Ingredients for a Great Festival
    March 23rd, 2009 00:17
    4

    [...] 3) Make Events Blog-worthy: You know things are going well when events inspire a blog. [...]

  5. KadmusArts - where culture speaks » Blog Archive » Who Should Be the Ticket Master?
    June 29th, 2009 05:21
    5

    [...] Box office personnel at too many venues are still some of the worst representatives of customer service. (Go ahead and try to have a pleasant experience at the Hirschfeld Theatre — “What the Arts Need to Learn from a Shoe Salesman”). [...]

  6. KadmusArts - where culture speaks » Blog Archive » Art of Bezos & Hsieh
    July 27th, 2009 02:29
    6

    [...] Following his appearance at the SXSW festival, we featured Tony Hsieh’s applicable wisdom: What the Arts Need to Learn from A Shoe Salesman. [...]

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