I think it's pretty fair to say that my box office team hates me right now. "Impossible!" I hear you cry (and thank you for that). Well, OK, maybe 'hate' is a bit strong, but I've definitely seen more rolled eyes, flared nostrils and curled lips of late than I'm used to. That's not counting customers of course; that sort of attitude is a daily occurrence with them, usually after I've told them that no, they can't have a refund just because they didn't realise when they booked that the sun would be shining today and they'd rather be in the park with a bottle of fizz and a good book (wouldn't we all).
The reason for some of the team's resistance at the moment is because I've suddenly become very hot on customer service. I don't mean calling everybody "sir" and 'madam' all the time – this is 2018, not 1928 – no, I just mean being consistently polite, even when the patron is a bit tricky, making eye contact, being patient when asked banal question, being generally friendly and welcoming. It's all basic stuff, but when doing the job day in day out it can be easy to lose sight of all this.
She hurls both envelope and card through the gap at me
My new-found evangelism was prompted by a week I spent recently in New York. Having not been over there for five years I crammed in as much theatre (or do I mean theater?!) as I could, which meant visiting a lot of box offices either to buy tickets, or collect pre-bought ones. Whenever I visit the States I am usually struck by how excellent the service is in shops, restaurant, hotels, bars etc. They're just so cheerful, chatty and helpful. Yeah well, you can forget all that when you're going to pick up your theatre tickets…
"So?" spat the delightful gent at the first box office I visited, accompanying this unusual variation on "Hi, how can I help you?" with a look that could freeze mercury…
"Oh, yes, um, hello," I sputtered, sounding suddenly incredibly English, "Um, I have tickets for tomorrow night booked and I was wondering if…."
(The eyes roll) "Did. You. Buy. Through. Telecharge?"
"Yes, I think so. I did it online. From London. In, er, England."
"Card?" He extends his hand, palm upwards and sort of waggles his fingers. It's not a very appealing sight. I find my card and slip it under the glass partition. He picks it up, sighs loudly and gazes at it as though it is contaminated in some way. Then he takes a wad of envelopes from somewhere next to him and flicks through them viciously. Finally, he sighs again, slams the envelopes back to whence they came and slips my card back under the glass.
"No. Come back tomorrow."
"Oh, do they get delivered on the day then?"
"I see. Well thanks for your help." I grab my card and go…he clearly adores me, I hope he isn't on duty again tomorrow.
Another show I'm seeing later in the week is playing on the same street. I decide to see if I can retrieve my ticket for that. God loves a trier:
"Oh hello, I've a ticket booked for Thursday night."
"Swell." She stares blankly at me through the glass.
"And, um, I was wondering if it would be possible to collect it now?"
"You gonna gimme yo name or do I gotta guess?"
"Well, here's my card…"
"Swell." I've made another friend here, clearly.
She does the same Envelope Fandango the earlier guy did but hers is more flamboyant owing to the enormous multi-coloured rings she's sporting on every finger. She appears to be getting more furious with every envelope. Finally, she stops at one, compares the name on it to the one on my card, then hurls both envelope and card through the gap at me.
"No latecomers, no intermission, no exchanges, no refunds," she growls, winningly. I feel like responding "No manners?" but decide that my British humour may not go down well with her.
The sole box office clerk on duty bears an alarming resemblance to Danny DeVito in Taxi
I've a couple of spare evenings while I'm here and so, buoyed up by my – admittedly limited – success, I decide to go and buy a ticket for another show I've been hearing good things about. There is a long queue for the box office and a few people standing in line are playing with their mobile phones while they wait, despite the fact that this theatre, like all the others on Broadway, has a sign up saying that the use of cellphones in the lobby is prohibited. The sole box office clerk on duty – who with all his hysterical shouting and bouncing around inside a Perspex box bears an alarming resemblance to Danny DeVito in Taxi – is interspersing talking to, or rather AT, the poor soul at the window with yelling "Hey you! Yeah YOU! NO CELLPHONES! Observe the sign! Observe the frickin' sign!" At least I *think* it's the word 'frickin' he's applying to the sign, his voice is pretty distorted through the microphone. Either way, he's not happy.
By the time I get to him he's almost hoarse, and, boy, is he riled up.
"Hello" I say, as brightly as possible, which seems to annoy him. Great start. Ah well, pressing on… "Would you have any availability for the weekend? I'm only looking for a single seat. I'd prefer the Sunday if you have it."
"2pm or 7pm? WILL YOU PUT YA DAMN CELLPHONE AWAY?"
"But I haven't got my cell…"
"Not YOU. HER!" He is gesticulating wildly but I don't look round, I just want to buy a ticket and get out of there.
"Right, OK. I'll go for the 2pm please. I didn't realise you had two shows on a Sunday."
"Yeah, we're like reeeeeal religious." Is he trying to be funny? His face is giving nothing away, apart from the fact that it's puce with anger. His veins are visibly throbbing. Worrying.
"So, do you have anything, please? Or not?" I'm fed up now.
"Premium seating. Three hundred and forty nine dollars." Wait, he wants to charge me 349 dollars and he's THIS rude? He can get stuffed, quite frankly.
"Sorry, no. Out of my price range I'm afraid. Anything else?"
Miraculously, after a couple of excruciating minutes, he finds something for me at a much cheaper price, but without once cracking a smile or making eye contact. After paying, I make sure he sees me whipping out my mobile and sending a cheeky text on it before I leave the lobby.
It leaves a nasty taste in one's mouth to have bought an expensive ticket and been treated with utter disdain
There has been some interesting discussion recently of the discrepancy between West End and Broadway earnings for performers and stage crew. This disparity is true also for ticketing staff on either side of the Atlantic, which is all the more ironic given the rudeness of most of the box office clerks I've spoken to in New York. Plus the tickets are, for the most part, vastly more expensive over there.
So, I've returned having spent a fortune but also having seen some terrific theatre/theater, and full of appreciation for the importance of good customer care. While I have little doubt that a couple of the team would love at the present time to see me bundled unceremoniously onto the first plane back to New York, the rest of them are a lovely bunch who really do want the audience to have the best possible time from the moment they walk through the theatre door. It leaves a nasty taste in one's mouth to have bought an expensive ticket and been treated with utter disdain by somebody who's probably earning a lot more money than you are. But, hey, nobody died.