Monday, September 21, 2009
Customer service is everything - what sports can learn from Verizon
I love the customer service that Verizon provides. I have been with the cell company for several years and every time I need some help, their technical support people do a great job. They didn't make BusinessWeek's 2009 list of Customer Service Champs (link below) but they do great for me. They listen, give me an update (even if it is simply saying that they are working on it) and then take the opportunity to explore how my experience is going. They turned my problem into an asset. Now that is excellent customer service!
It got me thinking about how customer service plays a part in the business of sports. In a business primarily built around customer experiences, the service the fans receive is the only thing that you can control. You can't control the wins and losses, the officiating, the weather. But, you can control what the fan (or for event managers, the participant) experiences when they interact with you and your staff.
Business Week's Customer Service Champs 2009
In sports, customer service generally starts when a fan inquires about tickets or a sponsorship package and does not end until you or the fan/sponsor completely sever all contact (which may be never). So as an organization you have to consider the ticket purchasing process, sponsor development process, in game experiences and outside fan interactions.
The Box Office Knowledge Gap
In the current era of internet marketing and purchasing, fans can now choose to purchase either online or in person/on the phone. Assuming you have a smart web strategy, we'll focus on live interactions for the sake of this posting.
When a fan makes a phone call or visits a box office, it's usually an independent third party that operates it. This means, especially for a minor league team, that there could be a knowledge gap between what the box office personel knows and what is reality. This can create some poor first impressions, reduce your team's level of customer service and likely lose sales.
It is the job of the team's director of ticket operations and director of customer service to ensure that the box office is knowledgeable of all ticket matters (pricing, seating location). Plus, they need a high understanding of general information that is not directly related to their job, such as game schedule, start times and even the team's website.
Want to see how they do? Just call the box office and ask a few questions. Within 15 seconds you'll know if you're in trouble.
The Sponsor Experience
If you are selling sponsorship packages, customer service may be the only thing that sells. While it is easy to ramble off number of impressions and activation opportunities, what you are really selling is that you will deliver on your promises. This comes down to trust, which comes down to customer service.
Do you call them back when you say you will? Are you providing the information they are looking for? Some sponsors may not be familiar with your product, team or event so you have to deliver great service before anything else. (Be sure to see my post on Managing Your First Impression)
In Event - Whose in Control?
Obviously each team or event will have a director of operations. Their job is simple: make sure the fan experience is the best it can be. Some teams are lucky enough to have a person or group in charge of sponsor development. But, what if there's a problem? How are you addressing fan's and sponsor's suggestions, complaints, comments and questions?
It starts with making it easy for them to voice their concerns; knowing where to go or who to call or email. Do you direct them to a particular area in the arena? A person? A website? Where ever they should go, make sure it is very obvious to them.
This will increase your feedback. Fan and sponsor feedback is the best source of improvement you have. Especially when they care enough to make a complaint. Listen to what they say and pull something out of it. The hardest part, especially with a complaint, is taking the emotion and pride out of it. Even though the comments may seem ludicrous, you can usually learn something. Try and empathize with them. Let them know you've heard them. Let them know of possible solutions. Even if you can't immediately help, at least you've listened to them and possibly kept a client for one more day.
Be Aggressive, B E Aggressive
Also known as being proactive. Not all fans and sponsors actively voice their opinions. But don't assume that means everything is OK. Following your event or season, hosting a focus group and doing surveys can prove to be very enlightening. These can be done expensively (hiring a market research company) or on the cheap (SurveyMonkey.com).
Be sure to check out "Event Planning Starts the Day After".
Informal focus groups can provide some of the insight you are seeking. And though this is just a small portion of the group you want to learn more from, it can lead you to the type of questions you should be asking in a survey. A word of caution: creating your own survey can be difficult and may lead to useless or misleading information. Be sure to do some research prior to creating and distributing your survey.
The bottom line is simply this: the service you provide your customers is the most important thing in the business of sports. Be like Verizon; turn your customers' problems into an asset.