Audience driven innovation in the theatre

One of the most common issues STBY are asked to help with is how to successfully integrate customers into innovation processes. This issue manifests itself in a diverse number of ways, and the problems it presents can vary wildly from sector to sector. A project recently completed in The Netherlands therefore granted us an opportunity to get to know yet another diverse group of customers – the theatre audience.

Theatre Institue Netherlands (TIN) are in many ways both the heart and the memory of theatre in the Netherlands. They document, support and promote Dutch theatre; they offer the largest multimedia theatre documentation centre in Europe, organise debates and public exhibitions, promote talent in both the Netherlands and abroad, and try and facilitate connections and harmonisation within the theatre sector. Their work strengthens the social position of theatre, and promotes a rich and inspiring theatre climate throughout the country.

Looking to improve their work still further, TIN came to STBY for advice and support on how to involve their audience in the innovation of their services. They had already attempted via an intuitive process to become more customer focused as an organisation. They had some success incorporating the use of personas for specific customer segments as part of their daily service delivery, for example – which of course often proves very useful. When looking to truly innovate their service offering however, and identify new and engaging strategic opportunities, they felt that they were struggling to find a suitable approach – their efforts to date lacking structure when it came to long-term plans. After speaking with them in detail about what they’d achieved so far, our suggestion was to introduce them to Customer Experience Labs method – an approach we’ve had great success with in the past when helping companies embrace co-creation.

One way in which this method helps structure co-creation processes, is that it provides an easily identifiable focus point. When working with a specific product or service the focus is obvious, but in projects such as this you can still define a focal point by exploring those resources already at hand. In TIN’s case, this mean their Theatre Encyclopedia.

Over the years TIN has built up an extensive online database with descriptions of thousands of theatre productions together with rich audio-visual illustrations. This Encyclopedia contains more than a million objects, dating from the 17th century right up until the present day. The posters, photos, costumers, models, scripts, audio, and video contained within provide a rich account of the history of Dutch Theatre. These materials are already used for physical exhibitions and online data retrieval, but they also offer an excellent foundation for a much broader portfolio of services – services that audience could help create, innovate, and define.

In order to explore potential ideas for and interest around these new services, STBY organised a Customer Experience Lab at the Park Theatre in Eindhoven. A mix of people who all regularly visit theater performances – and have an interest in theatre-related information – were invited to participate in a half day interactive workshop. During this session we involved them in a series of exercises to capture and explore their existing habits and needs, using visual maps of recent customer journeys. From discussions in pairs to joined-up group conversation, we invited them to share ideas on how their needs could be better catered for – or even how TIN could surprise them with services that they may not have expected to find there.

The session turned out to be extremely productive, with a large number of ideas and suggestions being generated and recorded. We even got to make the most of working in a contextual environment, celebrating the outcome with dinner in the in-house restaurant before watching a performance by Toneelgroep Amsterdam.

Having now experienced the process under the guidance of STBY, the team at TIN are planning to run similar Customer Experience Labs in the coming months. They’ve thus gently acquired a new technique for their toolbox, supporting them in their quest to be customer focused in their service innovation and delivery. And we got to spend some time in the theatre, so everybody went home happy!