Astonishing news from the Royal Opera House. Despite the fact that their new booking system is not completely ready, they're launching it*.
That's the date when Premium Friends get to book for the 2012-13 autumn season, having paid £1,760 per annum for the privilege of doing so. (Regular £83 a year Friends don't get their chance until a few weeks later).
But instead of being able to pick their own seats from the many different categories, as they do now, they will be forced to take what the system considers the 'best available' - which may be in a completely different position from the ones they'd choose themselves.
Given that the sole practical benefit of paying the ROH nearly £2,000 a year is the ability to select seats from a very wide choice, it's not hard to guess that a lot of these loyal customers will be upset. Very upset. To compound the insult to their generosity, the seat-choosing facility will be made available to regular Friends.
In other words, the ROH treats you better if you contribute £83 a year than £1,760. There's a logical response to that, which means the ROH is bound to lose vital donor support.
At a time when they need every penny they can get, this is not just poor short-term business sense. It's an indication that the organisation couldn't care less about their best customers, and that's a message with far-reaching consequences. How do you plead for legacies and top-up donations when you've just spat in someone's face? And how do you encourage regular Friends to raise their level of support in the future?
As state funding shrinks and business sponsorship dries up, these become key questions. Individual support will provide increasing sustenance for the ROH in future. It has to. Peter Gelb knows that. Why doesn't Tony Hall?
I think most of us understand that IT projects don't always run to schedule. But the response to that should be to delay implementation. Is there a single customer who really cares whether the interminably-gestating new website launches next week, next month or next year? What people care about is that it's complete and usable. A half-baked, half-completed version which prevents customers from doing the very thing they've paid through the nose for is in nobody's best interests.
At least the fact that the ROH only informed customers the night before booking starts indicates they're aware they've cocked up, and badly.
And in case anyone's wondering, I'm not one of those who pays the ROH £1,760 a year. I'm just appalled at the way idiotic business decisions like this undermine the institution's foundations. Maybe only a few wealthy individuals are affected in a direct way, but in the end everyone suffers.
(*Note - via Twitter, a ROH representative has responded that it's not in fact a new booking system, but a 'transition period' - whatever that means. Regardless of how it's labelled, the effect is the same - people won't be able to choose their seats. Just in case they try to fob you off with the same 'explanation'.)