Ashley Smith-Hammond

Make sure your ticketing systems and customer services are designed with the user experience in mind - or you could end up making life harder for your audience. Your automated systems should be flexible and intuitive.

Hamiltons of excitement

Last Monday I went to see the new production of Hamilton in London. It was amazing.

But you don’t need my show review – there are plenty of gushing reviews out there to choose from. The thing I thought would be interesting for a Culture Republic blog audience is actually a review of my ticketing experience. The producers of the show have worked hard to shut out the secondary ticket market and claimed last month that it has ‘all but eliminated touts’.

As a user of the new system I can report that it did work really well on the night. In the lead up however, not so much. Here’s my story.

Sometime back in the mists of 2016 I put myself on a ‘Priority Booking List’ for Hamilton fans who were interested in the earliest possible access to tickets if and when Hamilton made its way to London. One morning in January 2016, that priority booking opened and I went onto the website with my booking code to secure myself the maximum number of four tickets to see the show over the February half term the following year. (As you read this also keep in mind that every step of the process was filled with an effervescent thrill of joy of the true fan.) Following my purchase I did not receive paper tickets in the post. I received confirmation of my purchase via email with clear instructions:

“Remember! When you attend the performance you will need to bring along:

  • A printed copy of this original purchase confirmation e-mail
  • The credit/debit card used to make the original purchase
  • An officially-issued photo ID such as a driving license or passport

No paper tickets will be sent out, and the card holder and any persons accompanying them must be together and enter the theatre at the same time.”

small robot in front of a keyboard looking sad
In April I wrote a piece here about ticket resale generally. If you want a bit more context you can go back and read that.

Nothing happened for quite a long time after that, until something really terrible happened. The fourth member of our party experienced a bereavement. It was tragic and unexpected and rocked his friends and family to the core. The funeral was scheduled for the day we were booked to see Hamilton.

This matters to our story because my experience from here on in speaks to the brittleness in the system and highlights the customer service challenges that came along with locking down ticketing. It’s worth knowing what you’re potentially trading if you’re considering the benefits of such restrictions.

The Ts&Cs of my contract with Ticketmaster were clear – no refunds or exchanges. No transfer of tickets. But this was an exceptional situation.

What I wanted and never got was to speak to a real human being to understand what my options were in the face of this unusual case. I tried the venue but they were strictly not allowed to answer any Hamilton customer service questions. The Ticketmaster customer helpline is just as expensive (it’s a premium rate number), automated and labyrinthine as you fear it will be. I knew it was a mistake but I tried. It was a mistake. I finally got to the end of a trail of automated queries and the system disconnected the call – an anodyne way of saying I got hung up on by a robot.

Undaunted, I tried Twitter. Did you know that their Ticketmaster has a separate customer service twitter account and it’s only staffed limited hours? Me neither. The process lasted for days because the times that were convenient for me weren’t staffed so there were long delays in between my query and their answer.

In parallel I was Googling like mad and digging through the help pages on the Ticketmaster UK site. There are lots of general pages that answer general questions that the robot popups worked really, really hard to direct me towards. My situation was quite specific and was not covered in their help pages so each popup became progressively more frustrating. I consider myself a competent internet user but it took me a couple of goes before I found the form to email them my query. The UX was a horror – loads of really specific information I had to seek out and popups popping up as I started filling out each section of the form that tried to send me away to a static help page.

Nevertheless, I persisted and was finally able to submit my query via email. As best I can tell, they prioritise customer enquiries based on not when the question was submitted but on the performance date you’re booked for. As a result I had to wait quite a few days for the response from Ticketmaster. It added unnecessary suspense into the mix.

Ticketmaster did indeed refund the cost of our ticket. We received confirmation on the 10th February – our show was on the 12th. (They resold it, by the way – we had a lovely chat with the woman who bought it as a last-minute return.)

In summary, the positives outweighed the negatives.

  • We were able to get a refund.
  • The customer service issues didn’t ruin the rest of the theatregoing experience (see as in the tweet below for evidence of the effervescent joy).
  • The secure paperless entry system was really smooth. There were queues but they moved really fast and the staff managed the crowd really effectively.
  • As a consumer I am still glad to know that the tickets can’t be resold at grossly inflated prices and as a professional with an interest in these things it was interesting to see it in action.

However, it is clear that while automation can be an invaluable tool that improves organisational efficiency and enhances the user experience, this particular system appeared to do its level best to put obstacles in the user’s path. I couldn’t help the feeling as I proceeded through the Ticketmaster systems that it shouldn’t be so hard. Any of you out there looking at your ticketing and considering getting involved with systems to reduce secondary market ticket sales should consider how you could improve the customer experience for people who have a legitimate issue. I’m sure we could all come up with something better.