Delivering Great Customer Service – A Story

Customer service is a huge part of what I do on a daily basis. Here I’d like to share an anecdote about my first major customer service breakthrough.

The story begins with the first home football game of the season last year. It is not uncommon for students to have a good time at football tailgate parties and this particular student was no different. The character in question here was a freshman who was obviously going through rush for a campus fraternity, adorned from head to toe in painted Greek letters on his chest, ripped clothing on his back, an authentic looking World War II military style helmet on his head and aviator sunglasses on his face. As he stumbled up to where we were seated in the box office, we knew this was going to be good…and yes, sure enough – he was denied from entering the football stadium. He had no identification, no money, slurred speech and couldn’t stand up straight without leaning on our window. Somehow, he expected us to make an exception for him and allow him to enter the game; that wasn’t going to happen and never have I seen anyone so upset upon being told no. It was not a pretty sight.

Fast forward to that following Monday when this student’s father called the athletics department with the intention of finding out why his son was denied access to the game on Saturday. On that morning, I was the one who answered the phone; on the other end of the line was an extremely irate parent, making all kinds of outrageous demands in retaliation to how his son was mistreated. Come to find out, the story was much different as this student’s father understood the situation. The young freshman pledge had not been entirely honest with his parental unit…not honest about anything other than the fact that he was denied access.

To make a long story short, the phone call with the parent lasted about 20-25 minutes and ended with a very pleasant good bye. I explained to this student’s father what really happened at the box office that morning, what the University’s policies are regarding student football tickets, as well as what the state and local laws are regarding underage drinking. Once this parent understood the full circumstances of what had happened and why, he went from wanting to terminate his relationship with the University all together to probably punishing his son more severely than I really felt comfortable asking. His displeasure with his son was obvious – let that be a lesson in honesty that that student will never forget!

There are several points to this story that serve to demonstrate quality customer service. The first is the ability to actively listen. In order to truly understand someone, as well as to help them know that you understand, active listening techniques are a great way to start. Repeat what the person is saying in your own words and ask for affirmation. “So you’re telling me your son was denied because he is in a fraternity?” When you do this, the customer knows you heard what they are saying.

Secondly, another aspect to providing quality customer service is to not only explain your side of the story, but to explain why there are policies in place regarding the circumstances being discussed and how they relate to what the customer is saying. “Any fan who is obviously intoxicated or visibly under the influence of drugs or alcohol will not be allowed entry into the stadium.” If such policies are clearly posted near stadium entrances and in the conduct statement every student must agree to before buying tickets, the customer service representative has more leverage in helping a student’s parent understand why their child was at fault.

Third, sympathy and empathy. “Sir, I understand that you are upset that you are the one who paid for your son’s ticket, which ended up not getting used. We explained to your son why he was denied access and that he was in violation of the student conduct policy to which he agreed, in addition to state law. I know what it is like to be in college and wanting to have a good time, however we cannot condone that type of misbehavior or public intoxication.” A little patience and kindness in empathizing with the customer goes a long way in terms of building a positive constituent relationship that benefits both parties.

Finally, don’t treat others as you would want to be treated, treat them the way THEY want to be treated. I wrote about this in a previous post HERE and am posting it again, as it applies very well to this topic. Take whatever time you have with a customer to figure out what is important to them and treat them in a way that makes them feel at ease, understood, and comfortable. Again, active listening is key to understanding.

This is a just a basic outline of one situation that occurred a long time ago, but one that demonstrates the influence of patience and understanding when involved in a customer service type role; to get emotional or defensive only makes things worse. I have learned and continue to learn from every interaction I have with customers on a daily basis. No phone call or personal interaction is the same and you never know with what you will be presented. The best advice I could give to any one regarding customer service is to know yourself, know your product, and know your team of fellow employees. Other than that, stay strong, true to your gut, and be honest. Honesty is always the best policy.

If you’d like to share a customer service success story, please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear what you have to say!

Go Forth!

Becoming More of That Which You Already Are

One of my theology of professors in college used to talk about this all the time…becoming more of that which you already are. This quote has never left me and is something I think about daily. How, today, am I becoming more of that which I already am? Who am I? What do I stand for? How am getting better and becoming more like what I aspire or am destined to be?

Have you ever thought about this in terms of your organization or team? Who are you as a team? Who are your players/staff/leaders? How well (or not) do you work together? What is your identity? How are you perceived amongst your peers or in the marketplace? All noble questions indeed and ones that must be reflectively answered in time. Though all the while you are figuring that out, you are at the same time becoming more of that which you already are. Are you confused yet?

The point of this quote is meant to be taken both personally and professionally, as it lends itself to thinking that that we are at the same time always evolving, yet always the same at our core. For example, in order to be successful, one must already have the understanding that they are successful, yet not as successful as they might be in the future. Success would be a part of the nature of that person or organization and by understanding that piece, there is a shift in mentality that they are already successful, yet always growing toward more success.

At the same time, perhaps success is a bad example because of what some define success to mean. Of course there are different measures of success, depending on the other values that are of influence to the person or organization, which is what makes this message all the better – Each has its own authority to understand and define what each will become and how that process will unfold, however only after a thoughtful reflection. There are always unforeseen circumstances that might unexpectedly arise, though the person or organization will always be what it was going to be anyway.

This is good stuff that requires a great deal of time spent in reflection on an ongoing basis. As we all know, life is a journey with both ups and downs, good times and bad. One of my most favorite movie quotes is from the movie Shawshank Redemption – “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.” So which are you doing? Are you truly living and thriving? Or are you just trying to get by and barely surviving? I hope that you’ve found a path toward thriving and are making steps to improve the lives of others and yourself. Here’s to another great week!

Go Forth!

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Post-Season Baseball

This is my favorite time of the year for watching baseball. After a long summer at the ballpark, football was a welcome distraction in August and September. Now that the initial excitement of the football season starting up has worn off a little bit, the anticipation of baseball playoffs is among us. The weather is getting cooler, the days are getting shorter, the nights longer. And there’s plenty of excitement in the recent highlights as there always seems to be…and that’s something unique about sports – that anticipation you feel in your gut when you’re so connected to something that it changes you physically.

There are probably four different ways I can think of that a sporting event can be experienced:

– Your team is clearly better and dominates from the beginning. You feel pretty confident in these games and probably tend to let your focus drift to something else, though you never leave that channel.

– Your team is clearly going to lose. You’ve got no chance at all. Hopefully the other team will put in their “B” squad or backups so your starters at least have a chance of redeeming themselves with something positive.

Then there’s the in-between…the kind of games when you’re really not sure who’s going to win. Two ways to look at this scenario:

– Your team is ahead, but not by much. You thought you had a chance to win and probably knew it was going to happen, but not easily. You’re on the edge of your seat. You can’t sit still. You are nervously biting your fingernails, crossing your fingers and have your hat on inside out and backwards.

– OR your team is behind and it’s not looking good. They’re rallying, but it would take a lot to get ahead of the competition. Your players are looking tired, but not deflated, desperately looking for that last ounce of motivation to catapult them ahead of the other team.

Have you ever felt this way? For most, it’s probably a much better feeling to be ahead than behind, but does that feel as good as being behind and then winning? Definitely not.

And this is one way to think about the things that keep us connected to sport and what makes sports business different than any other. How many companies or businesses can say they have the connections and passionate consumers that most sport franchises boast? A few, but not many. As sports professionals and executives, let’s not forget to nurture these connections all year long with our consumers, not just in the post-season when everybody is watching. So with that, enjoy the next week of sport – MLB playoffs, a handful of still undefeated football teams, and plenty of other worthy stories that are bound to filter through the cracks.

Go Forth!

What do you LOVE about sports?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? Have you debated the value of sport in society with your friends? By this I mean more than how your favorite player is doing or how your fantasy team is stacking up. Think about it…seriously. I’ll wait.

As sports executives and professionals, we see a very different side of sport that most people will never know – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and we love every minute of it! Or do we? Do you love your job? Your experiences and opportunities? Are you thankful for what you’ve been given? Take a second to remind yourself how great it is to have a job in the first place, let alone in sport and athletics management.

Recently I was discussing with a co-worker how sport is a reflection of society as a whole; how the values of a culture are expressed in the way sporting events exist in a society. As a sociology and theology major in college with a heavy background in math and science, I’m just as interested in research data as I am in how the values, thoughts and feelings of people spread throughout society, and in this case, are reflected in how we engage in sport. This conversation reminded me of the struggle many groups have experienced over time, not just in America, but throughout the history of humankind, and how those struggles have been manifested in sport. Segregation. Discrimination. Dominance.

On the other hand, look at the positives of how sport brings people together. Teamwork of the players. Unity among fans. Players shaking hands after the competition. Emotional connections of people striving for excellence in physical and mental exertion against a worthy opponent. And numerous other reasons why sport is valuable to a society and to building and shaping a culture.

So what do YOU love about sport? Why do you watch? What does it do for you internally?

Go Forth!