A few days ago I was at my local grocery store. Being able to work from home affords me the luxury of grocery shopping at off times. So I picked up the few items that I needed and headed for the self-checkout. I confess that I like scanning and bagging my own groceries. One of the items that I was attempting to scan wouldn’t return a price so I set it aside and continued to scan the other items in my cart. Once I had finished scanning the last of my items, I raised my hand and the self-checkout attendant came over. I handed the attendant the item and said that it wouldn’t scan correctly. As I was a regular customer, the attendant told me that since the item didn’t scan correctly there was no charge. The attendant put the item in my bag, apologized for the delay, and wished me a good day.
I wish that I could say this was a one-off event, but I am seeing it happen more and more. I can think of several random acts of kindness in my own life. Recently, I was reading the book, Culture Code, by Daniel Coyle. In it, Coyle talks about restaurateur Daniel Meyer. With several restaurants in New York and the popular Shake Shack, Daniel has developed a culture that encourages his employees to go beyond customer expectations. Creating moments of random kindness that make the experience special highlights a culture that places the customer first in the organization.
In the creative arts, we can become confused about what is important. Art for art’s sake can become a noble folly that alienates the audience and shrinks the possibilities for engagement and growth. By placing the patron outside the organization we miss the fundamental relationship that they are central to our art.
By prioritizing our relationship with patrons, we give ourselves the opportunity to create a culture where random acts of kindness aren’t random at all, but part of a full patron relationship. These acts serve as a compliment to the relationship and not an end unto itself, an authentic act of kindness.
During my time at Pittsburgh Opera, I noticed that at the end of every performance, the general director, development and marketing teams were out in the lobby as people were exiting the theater. They weren’t just standing there, they were engaging with the patrons, thanking people for coming and ready to receive feedback. It was an observation that I carried with me my whole career as I stood at the doors of many a theater and genuinely thanked the audience for taking their time to attend our performance. Though I did for years, I was always warmed by the response and feedback that we received. I got to know many of the patrons who attended.
So if you are evaluating the culture of your organization, where does the patron fit in? If they aren’t your number one priority, you’ve probably got some work to do. What do your patron’s value? I’ll give you a hint, look beyond the performance itself. What would happen if you randomly:
- Offered to give an audience member a backstage tour?
- Upgraded a first-time ticket buyer to a better seat?
- Invited an audience member to the patron’s lounge?
- Treated an audience member to a free drink at the bar?
- Invited an audience member for coffee or lunch and asked them for feedback?
Random acts of kindness really limitless in scope. Just focus on being authentic. Your patrons will know if you are faking it. By engaging with your patrons, you will develop a patron-centric organization built upon authentic relationships that will strengthen both your organization and the community.