No refunds. No exchanges. Except . . .

Sometimes, people don’t like my shows.  Sometimes, they even leave before they are over.

What can you do.  You can’t please everyone.  And frankly, I bet people walked out of Oedipus Rex during previews (incest, violence . . . makes Spring Awakening look like “Hee-Haw”).

Sometimes those people ask for their money back.

Then what do you do?

The theater has always printed its harsh “No Refunds/No Exchanges” policy right on the ticket, as if to say, “Don’t even ask or we’ll beat you with a stick.”

Most people don’t ask.  And frankly, they shouldn’t.  You don’t ask for a refund if you don’t like a movie, or if you’re unhappy with the exhibits hanging on the wall at your museum.  You’re paying for an objective experience, and taking a risk right along with everyone else.

The problem is that the cost of a theater ticket is a lot more than a movie or a museum, so I’d wager that we get more refund requests than both combined.

You can’t give customers their money back just because they didn’t like the show.  But in today’s customer service The “Don’t Ask For Your Money Back Or The Box Office Treasurer Will Beat You” policy doesn’t work either.

It’s your responsibility as a Producer to temper your customer’s unhappiness as much as possible, to try and reduce the volume of that customer’s word of mouth.  Because it most certainly is not going to be good.

So what can you or your able-minded box office do?

If people are leaving early, I do just about anything short of a tap dance to get them back in the theater to see the full show.  Both Prom and Altar Boyz are both shows that take a few minutes to get groovin’  and snap judgements aren’t good for any show. I even promised one couple I’d take them out to dinner if they sat through the show and then still wanted their money back (they ended up buying me dinner . . . and even expressed interest in investing in a show in the future).

When people won’t stay, I always offer those people a chance to come back to see the show again.  Most refuse, so I offer them vouchers that they can give to friends who they think might like the show more.  I even suggest they give the vouchers away as Xmas gifts (you save them money and you become a hero).

If that fails, I offer them free tickets to another one of my shows, or a steep discount.

T-shirts?  Drinks?   I keep going to additional offers like a never-ending flowchart.

Maybe they won’t take me up on any of it, but they see that I’m trying to do everything I can to provide them with some value.  The effort alone usually softens their temper.

And if it doesn’t?  And they are still as mad as ever and they still want their money back?

I still won’t give it to them.

Why?  Because people like that are going to speak poorly about your show no matter what you do.

You could triple their money back, and they’d still talk about you like you Oedipus-ed your mom.

  • Lauren Yarger says:

    Good advice, Ken. In my days as head of Front of House for a large performing arts center, our policy was to make sure they left satisified in one way or another — even if they didn’t like the show. Statistics show that a person with a negative experience will share it with at least 10 people and those people will share it with another 10 or 20 each. A person having a positive experience might share it with one other person, or no one, but you save yourself the negative publicity. The key to this usually is a sharp FOH staff.

  • David says:

    Actually, I find myself asking for and getting refunds at movies and restaurants more and more often of late.
    At the movies I wouldn’t ask for consideration if I just didn’t like the film, but if there was something in the theatre’s control that was a problem – bad sound, framed wrong, lights on, people talking, dim projector – I’ve found that asking pays off. Often they start with a free drink, but if you’re persistent you get a voucher for another show. Not a refund, but odds are that I am going to see another movie.
    THe funny thing is that the last two times I’ve done this I never used the voucher.
    (When we saw “A Mighty Wind” the movie was framed improperly on one projector so the very top of people’s heads weren’t showing. My friend says to the manager “Yes, I am SURE Christopher Guest INTENDED all the heads to be cut off as a kind of statement on the mindlessness of folk music.” It was pretty classic.)

  • kb says:

    Ken, how about commenting on the recent rash of “postponed” B’way productions for season ’08-’09? I would love to hear the producer’s view given this is a tough economic climate and new productions are really feeling it.

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