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Can sports satisfy the new levels of customer expectation?

And no matter how well-intentioned our organization might be, is it really possible to keep pace?

Customer service gurus reflected on these questions at the recent Institute of Customer Service Annual Conference in London. I attended with our chairman Matt Rogan – who led a keynote session (below) – with a keen focus on understanding how sport is stacking up against other customer-centric industries.

From the very beginning we’ve told our clients that the Customer is King – the single-most important driver of success and long-term growth for their organization. Seven years on – in a world that’s more content rich and attention poor than ever – we think that philosophy is more pertinent than ever: sports rights-holders need to ensure they’re adapting their offerings to satisfy all levels of customer demand. Falling behind, in our view, is not an option.

Hearing Steve Holliday, former CEO of National Grid, speak about the conundrum he labelled “the channels of localism, versus economies of scale” hammered home how customer expectations are not only lofty, but contradictory. Customers want the convenience of Amazon or Ocado, but lament the loss of the personal touch of a smiling cashier.

In the world of sports this often manifests itself, for example, as a desire for speedier-than-ever queues, rapid and low-cost bar service, and brilliant views. But the fact that quality service and the personal touch staff can provide is often the biggest variable in assessing customer experience, instances such as encountering a brusque barperson under pressure can often leave a sour taste in the mouth.

Technology…and a Personal Touch

To rise to this challenge, there’s no doubt employee skills, attitudes and behavior need to work alongside technology and automation.

On the former, for instance, Ocado frequently hires delivery drivers without driving licences because the company’s leadership believes it’s easy to teach someone to drive, but harder to connect with customers. Ultimately satisfaction is measured by how customers feel, rather than the product they have purchased, and so much of that comes down to feeling appreciated on the day of purchase or delivery.

Technology and automation at Volkswagen, meanwhile, will be a future where cars preheat while the driver is still inside eating breakfast and communicate with VW garages. Alison Jones, UK director of VW, said changing expectations have driven a power shift towards the customer, and ‘customer satisfaction’ has changed to ‘customer service’ because it’s no longer enough to just satisfy them, you have to actively serve them. A way Jones says organizations – including sports rights-holders – can reclaim some of that power is to “provide what customers don’t even know they want yet”.

The equivalent in a sporting context is hard to imagine…but we have to imagine it, because customers want something almost indefinable. They want big tech, but with a friendly face; they want the perfect view, at a decreased price; they want a pint, and for it to be a craft beer in their favourite glass. Data offers the clues to help any organization understand what the equivalent of a perfect pint might be, for any individual customer and at any given moment.

The bar for customer expectations has been raised, but it’s a huge opportunity for sports rights-holders to innovate, improve their offerings, and grow as a result. Going forward, those that have a deep understanding of what their customers want will thrive – as long as they have an openness to change, willingness to listen and a capacity to react at pace. Because to quote Matt Rogan’s keynote, “in the world of sports – the future belongs to the agile”.

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