Improving Access at Hull Truck Theatre
Box Office Sales Manager Danielle McLoughlin talks about how Hull Truck Theatre improved online access for their audiences:
At Hull Truck Theatre we are committed to opening up access to all aspects of the theatre. We recently announced our ambitious equality and diversity plans, along with a short animation about our commitment to being for everyone.
It’s important to us to continually improve our online access offer so that those with access requirements have the same facilities available to them as those who don’t, especially given the increasing trend towards online booking. In the last five years our internet sales have risen from 29% to 50%.
As Box Office Sales Manager, I work to develop our systems and procedures and lead innovations in box office processes and customer service; something which the whole team are very passionate about.
In 2017 I wanted to improve our online booking system for access customers, and this case study outlines the key steps that I have taken so far:
- Making the Access webpage easier to find and use
- Adding access information to seating plans
- Enabling access tickets to be booked online
- Spektrix process
- Creating a How To Guide
- Customer Testing and Feedback
Making the Access webpage easier to find and use.
Firstly I made the case to have ‘Access’ as a main tab on the website homepage, so it was more visible.
The large amount of text on the page required a lot of scrolling to find the appropriate information to the customer’s needs. To simplify this I introduced large icons/images/clickable areas and put information in to specific categories, making it easier for the customer to find. For inspiration I visited websites such as Royal Court London, New Wolsey Theatre and The Bush, which had been acknowledged for having good online access facilities at previous workshops I had attended.
Hull Truck Access Webpage
Adding access information to seating plans
The Heron auditorium has a ‘wall’ down the left-hand side which wasn’t previously visible on seating plans. I added this in to indicate that there is no aisle access to the left-hand side block – having no aisle access may be something that a customer with access needs must take in to consideration before booking.
I wrote notes on the seating plans to indicate which were access performances, added images of screen locations for the captioned shows, and created labels for seats such as wheelchair spaces, best caption seats, row M bar stool height seats and companion seats to make this important access information available at the point of booking. This information is available when you hover over the seat and is also shown on the next page, where ticket prices are displayed, which reiterates this information to customers.
Enabling access tickets to be booked online
The next stage was to work on making wheelchair spaces, companion seats and best caption seats available online. Previously, an access user would have to call or email the box office to enquire and book tickets or receive a disability/companion concession. This enabled us to provide customers with the best possible ticketing options for their needs but limited the ways in which they could book.
Working with Our ticketing Provider
I worked closely with Dotty (Spektrix) and used the Spektrix Support Centre documents to look at online access options and how to set this facility up.
Previously the seats we held for access users were not available online so I started by making them available to purchase on the website. After an initial conversation with the customer, to discuss specific requirements, we set the online access booking facility up for them and gave them some basic instructions.
When a customer logs in to our website, using their personal account, the system recognises that they are an access user and allows them to book the appropriate access tickets. Wheelchair users are able to book wheelchair spaces and essential companion seats, caption users are able to book seats that have the best view of caption screens.
I decided against limiting the number of access tickets that an access user can buy, per transaction or per event, as they may want to book the same show more than once, book multiple shows or book more than one access ticket. I didn’t want the customer to have to contact the box office a second time to be able to do this and it now means that if two or more access users want to attend the theatre together, their tickets can all be booked at once.
Our current concession policy is that wheelchair users, disabled patrons and their essential companions are entitled to the cheapest rate ticket available for the performance. Previously we did not offer a wheelchair user or essential companion discount online and asked that access users contact the box office; the reason being that we like to ensure our access users fully understand the options available and help them make an informed decision about the tickets/seats they’re purchasing.
I decided to make the essential companion concession available to the public, online, so that a disabled patron can book a companion, if required, without having to contact the box office directly. We currently still do not offer a wheelchair user concession online, having not spoken to the customer first, as it’s important we make the seating options available to them very clear. We will continue to review the online access booking facility on a regular basis.
Creating a How To Guide
I also created a guide to support customers through the booking process.
Customer Testing and Feedback
I contacted a local customer, Mark, who has regularly booked wheelchair spaces with us and is also part of Choices and Rights Disability Coalition and Chair of the Disability Advisory Group (East Riding). Initially Mark couldn’t see the wheelchair spaces on the seating plans and after some communication we discovered that because he has his screen magnification set to 100%+ he couldn’t find the ‘log in/account’ button on the homepage. Once located he said the procedure was extremely easy. I added a note to the instruction document, to make sure that users know they may need to scroll to find the account button.
Sarah works for a local Deaf centre and is already one of our theatre contacts. I set her up an online account and gave her the caption user tag which allows her to book the best caption seats. I sent over the access booking document and highlighted that the caption seats would look like ‘stars’ on the seating plan. The customer called me to say that she was logged in and that she could see the star icons but wasn’t sure what they were. I talked her through hovering over the stars to show the pop-up note that they are ‘Best caption seats’. Although this was noted in the instruction document, it goes to show the continued need for the box office function and having someone on the end of the phone for support. The customer was very happy that the process worked well and said it would be useful should she need to book on behalf of one her service users.
Satisfied with the initial testing, I extracted a list of contactable customers who had booked to see 2+ shows in the last 2 years and had purchased a wheelchair user concession and sent them an e-shot about the new service.
I found it really easy to book online, selecting seats and going through the payment and everything, we encountered no problems with booking or the website.
[The facility] actually encourages myself to book more shows as I know I can do it online. I am currently considering at least 2-3 other shows next year.
I used the online booking to book myself, wheelchair user and carer tickets online which was fab, I wish more companies would embrace your way of allowing wheelchairs to be booked online.
Once I was confident that the process worked, and my access booking document was clear, I updated the Box Office team with the procedure and we now actively tell people about the online booking facilities and encourage them to try it.
Of the customers we currently have tagged as ‘Caption User’ or ‘Wheelchair User’, 26% of those have used the online booking facility since our initial conversations, to book access tickets.
I am now currently working with the wider Communications and Box Office team to put together a marketing and press campaign that we can use to highlight our access facilities, and to create deeper relationships with access individuals and groups.
Author: Danielle McLoughlin