Ask Me Anything: Customer Service During Coronavirus

April 14, 2020

We’re (re)launching our Ask Me Anything series! Check back weekly to get your arts marketing questions answered by our consultants via video or blog. If you have a question to ask, submit it via email to


How can our organization provide good customer service, despite not having complete information or staffing, during the COVID-19 Pandemic?


It’s not every day that an arts organization has to deal with the consequences of an historic event. Sure, we’ve all faced show cancellations due to weather, artist illness, and union negotiations, but the impact of COVID-19 is truly unprecedented. As the dust begins to settle and the initial shock wears off, arts administrators are now faced with the logistical challenges of mass cancellations, while also navigating subscription launches for their upcoming season—all while quarantined. Many of you will be writing the playbook as to how your audience services team will be tackling these challenges. As you push forward, here are a few items for you and your frontline workers to consider.

Communication of Ticketing Policies

What are your ticketing policies and how are you adjusting them to better adapt to your current situation? Of course, refunds and donations are most likely allowed at this point, but what if a patron asks to put the value of their cancelled ticket on a gift card? What if a patron wants to put their refund towards a subscription purchase for next year? However you choose to tweak your ticketing policy, it is of utmost importance that you are managing your patrons’ expectation through clear and consistent communication. This means updating the language on your website, pinning messages on social media, sending a mass email and noting bounce backs for follow-up calls, and making sure that your box office team is up to speed on these adjusted policies.

Collaboration with your development team will also be a necessary step in order to encourage your patrons to donate their tickets over receiving a refund. Not only can your development colleagues help in the cultivation of your message, but they can also help create incentives for patrons to donate and provide clear instructions for gift tracking.

Doing the Most with the Least

You might be operating with a skeleton crew due to employee furloughs/layoffs from the economic impact of the coronavirus. Other departments in your organization may feel this strain as well, but this is still a good time to pursue interdepartmental collaboration. Can members of the development team reach out to donors, board members, and other VIPs to handle their ticketing needs? Can members in other departments (maybe even your star artists!) reach out to patrons to provide that personal touch? Even without the ability to process a ticket order, these organizational representatives can track ticketing needs within a collaborative spreadsheet for your team to take care of at a later time. Every little bit helps and your patrons will appreciate the individual follow up.

One Step at a Time

You may be feeling the pressure to get through your list of patrons from cancelled performances as quickly as possible, but it is very important to take your time and acknowledge one another’s humanity as you speak with people. You and your community are sharing a traumatic experience, so tensions are high. Whether a patron is upset about show cancellations, concerned about their personal wellbeing, or wants to chat due to a newfound loneliness from being quarantined, make sure your staff is taking the time to show compassion. Once you re-open your doors, consider showing gestures of gratitude to those who stuck with you through this tough time: a discounted subscription, a drink at the bar, or even just a special thank you from an usher.

You will have to face many tough decisions in the coming months and the urge to sprint through this as quickly as possible will always be present. Just remember that you can only run a marathon one step at a time, so make each one count.