by Liesel Tarquini, Gateway Ticketing Systems, Inc.
Ticketed non-profits (museums, zoos, aquariums, science centers and cultural attractions) have the often-complicated honor of being non-profit with a for-profit twist. They do, after all, charge for admission. Like their for-profit counterparts, the goal of the non-profit is to make money, in order to further its mission. That mission might be to positively affect the plight of endangered species, educate the next generation about science and technology, or preserve and extend the reach of artwork to a diverse community.
Operational processes and strategies at non-profit attractions must aim to fund their mission by facilitating the entry, membership and per cap spending that bring a venue’s mission to fruition. For example, easy entry, easy membership and easy (and incentivized) spend within a venue create seamless guest experiences that fuel an attraction’s non-profit mission.
The idea of a seamless guest experience is key to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science’s (DMNS) business mindset. They are successfully delivering seamless guest experiences through their philosophy of “everyone sells everything” and “all sales channels are equal.” Technology has been key in growing the museum’s significant membership base of 60,000 member households.
“We’ve been very fortunate here in that the leadership at the Museum understands the importance of technology and has enabled us to group and use tech in a way that we can leverage resources to come up with solutions to support the organization in the most efficient manner possible,” explains Eric Boen, DMNS’s Director of Technology.
Specifically, the Museum’s tech team doesn’t just keep their network running and point of sale terminals ready to sell – they have also developed native applications to support membership at the Museum. The Museum’s eCard is a mobile app that acts as an electronic membership card – displaying the guests’ information and benefits up-to-date and in real-time whenever the app is opened. This means no digging for a card when members arrive. When the application opens, a barcode displays that can be scanned for immediate admission into the Museum.
In use since October 2013, the Museum’s tech team is gearing up for version 2.0 of the application. “We wanted to know what our members want from their membership app and the hot-topic has been benefit redemption,” says Boen. “If they get a certain number of planetarium or 3-D theater tickets with their membership, they want to be able to redeem those tickets for a timed showing directly from their smartphone. By Q3 this functionality will be available to our members.”
To keep through-put high at the Museum’s entry points, the DMNS Operations team plans to streamline the membership purchase process. At the ticket booth or the Museum’s self-serve kiosks, only minimal information will be necessary. Guests provide an email address and later on they receive email communication reminding them to complete their profile.
This process will have multiple benefits: the lines at the front gate stay short and run smoothly. But perhaps more importantly, this process keeps the membership transaction in the background of their visitor experience. “That transaction is something they don’t remember, it wasn’t time consuming, and it wasn’t a hassle,” says Boen. “We want them to remember their time with the exhibits, not in the ticket line.”
Long a staple in the retail market, loyalty programs have slowly begun to make their way into the non-profit arena. And for good reason, loyalty programs can be used to capture data from both members and non-members. By providing a discount at a retail or dining outlet, venues can gather personal and spending data that allows them to better market to their core demographic and make smart business decisions on staffing, inventory and more. Loyalty programs also allow venues to cultivate visitor relationships and begin the process of transitioning a visitor to a member and ultimately a donor, through targeted marketing.
The Denver Museum of Nature & Science hopes to broaden their loyalty program soon. “We want to use loyalty in a way that expands upon its traditional use – not only do we want to add loyalty points for purchases or spend within the museum, we want to extend it to within the museum to capture data on how visitors interact with the Museum itself,” says Boen.
Significant advantages appear when the loyalty device is a passively trackable item. For example, Bluetooth hotspots can log the time people spend in a butterfly exhibit via the loyalty app on their phone. Curators can mine the data and develop a prime target group for an event on the science of flight with an entomologist.
Loyalty systems can also be used to enhance the membership sign-up process. Remember the email communication that new museum members will receive to complete their member profile? They will earn loyalty points upon profile completion.
The next iteration of the Museum’s Loyalty program will also likely include not just points that can be redeemed for stored value to purchase something at the Museum shop, but also that can be redeemed for exclusive experiences including behind the scenes events. These more intimate benefits provide a truly distinct loyalty proposition and perceived value for the participant. Loyalty can also be based on where the visitor or member is in the Museum system, similar to different status tiers in airline frequent flier programs. Such strategies enable a loyalty program to be fully integrated with a venue’s brand.
Removing barriers to entry and implementing loyalty programs can help improve the guest experience, while driving the Museum’s mission forward. “Our mission is to ignite our community’s passion for nature and science. We use technology, membership and loyalty programs to bring our vision full circle,” says Boen. “In order for us to provide the nature and science, we need our members to provide the financial support that makes it possible. It is our responsibility to provide the tools to make that support as seamless as possible, so that they can spend their time becoming a community that loves, understands and protects our natural world.” • • •
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