We know what it’s like to find a new ticketing system....Why? Because we've been there

We know what it’s like to find a new ticketing system....Why? Because we've been there

Our Marketing Director, Clare Newman, first met the team behind Expian when seeking a new ticketing solution in her former role with the UK’s largest sightseeing tour company, City Cruises. Here she explains her experience of finding a booking system that could manage 4million+ customers a year and what she learnt from the procurement process.

What did your legacy system look like?

We were operating multiple ticketing solutions to cover purchases at the ticket office, call centre bookings and trade partner sales. Our primary solution to manage website and call centre bookings also posed business risk. It was essentially a giant spreadsheet with only one administrator in the organisation who knew how to operate it. It was subject to human error, was unreliable and, if that employee was unavailable, inaccessible. It was also very restrictive around creating new products, discounts, or special offers.

What led you to seek a new ticketing solution?

The old system was causing three key issues for the business.

  1. Accessing sales data

The biggest pain point for me as a marketer was the inability to pull together sales reports. Without one single performance view it was difficult to understand yield and run rates. Building reports was time intensive - at least half a day for every weekly report and a whole day for monthly reports – and delayed our ability to spot trends or respond to changing market conditions.  

  1. Inability to manage a huge inventory

We operated from multiple locations, on boats with various capacities and sold different experiences including dining cruises with fixed seating. We even had to manually manage large group bookings according to the boat capacity and suggest they stagger arrival times to reduce waiting times. Furthermore, we did not have the ability to intuitively upsell or cross-sell products or sell complementary experiences from third parties e.g. the London Eye, limiting revenue opportunities.

  1. Exposure to fraud

We sold through more than 600 global trade partners including language schools, tour operators and deals sites such as Groupon, each of whom would produce their own vouchers. This made it incredibly difficult for our ticket officers to detect legitimate tickets. They either had to call the vendor to verify bookings at the point of redemption, or invalid tickets were accepted, and we lost money.

How did you procure a new system?

I was aware that I did not know the art of the possible, so employed Digitalist, the architects that went on to create Expian, to help me understand our business requirements. With input from our project team, they built a brief and helped me take it to market. 8-10 providers responded to the brief but, while they could meet the basic requirements, they couldn’t handle our needs at a granular level. While there were good solutions to suit the hop-on hop-off sightseeing tickets, and restaurant-style booking solutions that could manage the dinner and afternoon tea events but there wasn’t one system for all that could upsell and cross-sell across such a diverse range of ticket types. Seeing a clear gap in the market, Digitalist built Expian – formerly named Ticknovate– to meet our needs.

Which departments did you involve in the procurement process?

When a company’s revenue is reliant on ticket sales, it is fundamental to all parts of the business. Therefore, we had a broad project team. It included Heads of Commercial, Trade and Finance, the Head of Piers and operational leads for each of our regions, as well as stakeholders from the board. This gave us a full view of every part of the ticket purchasing journey.

What was the biggest lesson you learnt?

Identify the business problems you need to solve. It was valuable to involve system users in the process as they experience different pain points to the back office and executive team. The new system could:

  1. Give customers and trade partners the ability to make, amend and cancel bookings in real-time, which alleviated pressure on our call centre and eliminated customer frustrations
  1. Handle refunds via the portal so the finance team didn’t have to manage them individually and could bill partners based on accurate data
  1. Launch new product types and promotions instantly across all or some of the sales channels
  1. Cap inventory and ringfencing of sales through trade partners so we could focus on selling tickets through our most profitable channels
  1. Protect against fraud by generating a QR code for use on vouchers and partner tickets that could be quickly scanned and verified by pier staff
  2. And of course, reporting could be as granular as needed! The system could automatically generate reports with the information I needed in real time.

What advice would you give a company looking for a new ticketing provider?

Ask prospective suppliers to provide video evidence demonstrating specific functions and complex orders. While a system might be able to perform a function outlined in the brief, it may not cover everything you need it to. Request examples of the system handling different use scenarios, such as a customer amending a booking or being upsold a complementary service.

It’s also key to understand how the system will be implemented. It sounds obvious but it needs to be smooth, with minimal downtime otherwise you risk losing sales, disrupting operations, and annoying customers.

Final takeaway

Don’t be put off replacing your creaking legacy software. Your current system could be limiting your income opportunities or, worse, putting your business at risk. If in doubt, our team can help you to map your requirements and identify what could be achieved with a new system.


Contact Patrick Gray at patrick.gray@expian.io for more information.


N.B. After the company’s sale to Hornblower Holdings in 2020, CityCruises adopted Hornblower’s existing ticketing software

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