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Optimising Theatre Royal Plymouth’s upselling experience

Optimising Theatre Royal Plymouth's upselling experience: How we created custom HTML gift certificates in TNEW

Our friends at Theatre Royal Plymouth (TRP) sell a huge number of gift certificates every year. The vouchers that can be bought as a gift for family and friends to spend on productions and memberships at TRP all year.

So to get ready for the move to HTML email templates required for v16 of Tessitura, and to address the huge shift in people’s purchasing behaviour towards online transactions, they wanted to improve the email gift certificate process they had in place.

Their existing solution was a custom procedure they had built outside of TNEW (Tessitura's purchase path), which was causing issues both to manage internally, and for their customers.

We worked closely with TRP to create a custom HTML template for gift certificates in TNEW that retained the exact look and feel of TRP’s previous gift certificate emails, while resolving all of the customer service and administration challenges that came as a result of their previous custom solution.

It was a great project to work on, so we’ve spoken with Jamie Clarke (I.T controller at TRP) to talk a little more about what the work involved, why it’s been so successful and importantly, how it’s helped them get ahead of the game in preparing for v16 of Tessitura.

If you were to list out the key points in your brief to us, what would they be?

  1. Move away from sending the certificates in Wordfly (our e-marketing tool) to TNEW
  2. Send gift certificates instantly (rather than hourly)
  3. Send certificates to multiple addresses
  4. Reduce reliance on clunky process and admin overhead
  5. Reduce calls from confused customers and improve customer service
  6. Enable the Box Office to be cc’d in the gift certificate emails to customers (so if anything goes awry, they can be a lot more self-managing)

We listed the above, and said something like “this is what we’re looking to do - we need a bullet proof solution that’s on brand, and we need minimum involvement from us from an admin point of view.”

Can you share a brief overview of the background behind gift certificates at TRP, and how you got to the HTML gift certificates work?

Gift certificates have always been a big deal for us. We have a huge number of them purchased every year, largely around Christmas time as they’re often bought as last minute presents.

Before we moved to TNEW we had a customised website, and the gift certificate process was okay - simple with the occasional issue, but fine overall. But back then we were also sending a lot more gift certificates in the post.

Obviously over the last couple of years our transaction model has changed dramatically.

We’ve gone from around 65% of online transactions pre-covid to over 90% now, and we’ve moved to sending e-tickets (rather than print at home).

When I was looking at the numbers I had to run them two or three times because I genuinely couldn't believe there had been such a shift in people’s behaviour!

In August 2019 we migrated to Substrakt for our website build and to TNEW as our transaction path. The gift certificate thing was always on my to do list, so when we made the move and our transactions moved so heavily online, I started properly investing time in it.

This also coincided with Tessitura moving to HTML emails altogether (moving from SOAP to REST as a technology) so this is something we’d eventually have needed to do anyway - the gift certificates were an isolated thing that got us ahead of the game a little bit.

What challenges were you looking to solve with the HTML gift certificates?

One of the things you can’t do out of the box with TNEW’s solution is to put a custom message in there, so we felt that it wasn't the most personalised experience for someone and doesn’t feel very gifted.

Before we came to you for help, I built a custom procedure that allowed people to fill details into a custom table and send a triggered email in Wordfly (our email marketing tool). It kind of worked, but the main issue was that you couldn’t input multiple email addresses because Wordfly couldn’t send two emails to the same address at once - they were sent hourly.

So for example - if you wanted to send a gift certificate to every member of your family, they would receive them one by one, once an hour - so not a great experience for the customer. Especially because quite often, people were buying the certificates last minute and wanted them immediately. The box office received so many complaints on Christmas eve of the year we did use this solution because so many certificates still hadn’t arrived.

There’s a ‘now’ element to this. People aren’t used to waiting for an hour to receive anything these days - they think something’s gone wrong if they haven’t received something within 5 minutes.

So the customer would contact us, I’d have to manually adjust it in the SQL tables and then get it sent out. It caused a huge customer service issue involving an exchange of calls between myself, the box office and the customers - taking us through a chain of unnecessary admin that neither we nor our customers wanted! So it was a pain quite frankly!

We did really like the look and feel of the WordFly confirmation email containing the certificate, so we were keen to retain that while resolving these problems. That was the logic behind the work we did with you, and formed the basis of the stuff I started to run through with Will.

What did we do to hit these points?

  1. Moved from WordFly and retained the on brand template:

    • Tessitura templates are written in Razor, which I wasn't familiar with, so what Will did was to replicate the Wordfly template in Tessitura, which I didn't think was going to be possible. This looked exactly the same and there were no formatting issues which was brilliant. This avoided confusion with customers as they got the same email they had previously.
  2. Because emails are now sent from TRP not Wordfly, they are much more self-managing:

    • If I need to go in and change the wording or an image or anything, I can do it easily at a moment's notice.
    • Everyone in our Box Office team is blind copied into the emails, so they can resend them to a different address/forward it on to someone else quickly if needed.
  3. Kept the look and feel of the previous template, which is great from a branding and audience familiarity point of view.

Have you had any customer feedback?

In a very positive way - no! To me that’s a really good thing. If people have a complaint they tell 20 people, if they have praise they tell 5. So the less I hear about this stuff the better, it sort of melts into the background that this was ever a problem.

The fact we haven’t had any problems with it just shows how well it’s working.

Are you able to expand on the amount of admin time you’ve saved with the automated gift certificates?

It’s hard to put specifics on it (a lot of factors to consider) but I’d say that it’s saved a few hours of my time every week in the 6 weeks running up to Christmas, and the same for the Box Office.

Has the process been useful for any other work you’re doing?

Absolutely. It was something I was approaching with some trepidation as it’s not my area of expertise. So learning from Will all about how this programming model works has helped me develop these skills myself. If I ever need to pull custom data from Tessitura, I’ve now got a template I can work from. It’s made me think, ‘ok I can do this’ - I’ve got a much better footing.

I can easily go into these gift certificates and look at how Will has set things up, and replicate it for other pieces of work. I’ve actually been doing this recently for another project, so I can see how he’s done certain things - I’ve asked him a couple of questions and he’s very helpful in coming back to me, but generally I feel a lot more confident in building them myself.

And the great thing is that it’s helped me to develop the other HTML emails required for version 16 of Tessitura, so we’re ahead of the game in that sense.

They’ve been shown to the business and they’re a lot more flexible, so that’s all really helped my understanding of how it all hangs together.

And it allows us to be a lot more self-managing, which has always been a really important thing for me. Obviously sometimes you have to go to ask for help - if there’s something in the background to do with certain things then you give it to the people that understand it, but I’ve always been keen to make sure that what we can do ourselves, we do. Because it allows us to have our own timelines and puts us in a more resilient position, so we’re less reliant on external parties.

Plans for the future with HTML gift certificates?

As we get back to a normal booking environment, then the focus goes into the longer term planning. We’re going to do gift memberships, and we’re going to look at tying gift certificates in with other things, so it’s likely more things will arise from this work in the future. So yeah, it’s been a really big win all round!

If you’d like to hear more about anything we’ve talked about here just get in touch, we’re always happy to have a chat: