What can Metallica teach us about customer experience?

Metallica rank as one of the top-grossing tour bands of all time. Even today, with an aging fan base, the band continues to find appeal with younger markets. So, what’s the secret? Dan Kerber, long-time fan and VP of Business Operations at Ericsson Digital Services, finds out what we in telecom can learn from the Metallica customer experience.


VP, Business Operations

VP, Business Operations

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As I was taking my seat at the Metallica concert in Wichita, Kansas, last March, most of the people around me were undoubtedly thinking about the upcoming set list, the pyrotechnics, and what to expect from the opening act. Me? I was estimating the show's gross ticket sales and profit margin, thinking about the training and quality control program for the floor staff at each venue, and wondering how the schedule grid must look to coordinate the activities for the dozens of roadies that are crucial to making each show a success (yes, I really know how to live in the moment). In addition to these financial and operational tabulations, I also found myself wondering at the sustained success of the four 50-something dads who were about to perform.

Experience the future of events with Ericsson and smart stadiums

Consider this: in the first half of 2017, Metallica's World Wired tour was the fourth-highest grossing tour in North America, generating over $88 million in sales. In fact, they are consistently among the top-grossing tours worldwide year after year. This is even more impressive considering they have constantly toured over the last 30+ years.

How have they done it? Obviously their "product" is a big part of it. They already have one of the most extensive music catalogues of all time, yet they still continue to create popular and critically-acclaimed music at a time where most other successful bands are happily living off "best of" album sales. But having been to ten Metallica concerts over a period of 25 years, I am certain there is more to it than the music. As the band and much of their fan base has aged, Metallica has also evolved how a fan can experience their shows.

Dan Kerber

Connecting with the fan base

Like Ericsson and most of today's telecom service providers, Metallica's offering must cater to a diverse customer base. While we in telco deal with industries, verticals and consumer markets, Metallica deals with demographics.

It's helpful to understand the diversity of the band's fan base. It ranges from teens and twenty-somethings who were exposed to their music when they played it on Guitar Hero, to middle-aged fans like me who listened to Ride the Lightening on a cassette tape in their car in high school. In the extreme, it also includes the 72-year-old fan sitting in front of us at the concert who was probably introduced to their music by his high school-aged son in the 80s. Metallica literally have a fan base with birthdates that are well-represented across six different decades, a scenario Justin Bieber has never had to contemplate.

Metallica have gotten pretty good at maximizing the customer experience for this wildly diverse fan base. Here are three examples of how this was done at the show in Wichita:

  1. There were plenty of affordable seats in the upper and middle tiers, starting at around $60 each. These tended to be filled with younger, college-aged fans who would be on a tight budget but still prioritize attending live shows. These seats were higher up in the arena, but the speakers, video equipment and stage props ensured that the fans in them would still have a great concert experience
  2. Next were the standing-room-only general admission tickets on the floor. These tickets were more expensive, and for those willing to spend the money and stand for several hours in tight quarters, they offered the chance to get as close as possible to the band for the show. Ideal for more established fans that were still young enough to stand through an entire show and not be worried about sustaining serious injury from the odd mosh pit that might break out next to them
  3. Finally, there were the enhanced experience seats. These were for the most "established" (i.e. old) fans, who really wanted to be down on the floor, but knew it was not a practical physical option at their age. They were more expensive but offered the closest possible experience without dealing with the Emperor Penguin-like floor experience. In addition, these more expensive "VIP Experience" seats included perks such as a special entrance where you didn't have to wait in a line in the Wichita winter cold, a free dinner buffet, a dedicated bar, and a chance to get photos with and play some instruments from some of the bands' previous shows. Yes, these seats cost (a lot) more, but many of the fans who bought them would not have come without an option like this being available

Wrapping up their focus on customer experience, Metallica always make sure they deliver the goods at their shows and make a conscious effort to not become complacent. For example, they famously change about a quarter of their set list every show (and have been doing so for years) to help them keep their edge and stay focused. So that even with gray hair and arthritic knees, they bring the same energy and quality to every concert, making sure fans in every demographic feel they got their money's worth.

By making an effort to know the needs and pain points of their audience, Metallica have found a way to consistently stay on top of the market.

Metallica and the quest for easy

Unfortunately, not all of us get to be international rock stars. So, how can we apply these lessons about customer experience to our own business? For Ericsson, our focus on customer experience meant rolling out a global initiative called "The quest for easy". This was our commitment to create technology that is easy to use, adopt and scale, and enables our customers to capture the full value of connectivity. Like Metallica, many service providers are already diversifying their offers to capitalize on growing opportunities in industry 4.0.

In practice, the quest for easy at Ericsson includes doing things such as:

  • Listening to customer feedback and launching projects to streamline the processes and systems our customers interface with in their day-to-day business with Ericsson
  • Creating a common end-to-end software pipeline to provide our customers with more frequent product releases requiring less manual effort to deploy
  • Investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to create an Operations Engine that not only lowers the cost of our support services but can increasingly predict and prevent costly failures and service interruptions before a single user is impacted
  • Most importantly, it means never being complacent. We are challenged daily by our senior leadership at Ericsson to keep a challenger mindset and to remember that our customers are counting on us to help them be successful

We all can't be Metallica, but we can learn from their example. What does focusing on customer experience look like in your business? What else can you be doing right now to improve your customer experience? Where else can you find inspiration?

Want more? Explore how we work with the telecom customer experience at Ericsson.

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