Sport Customer service – Dealing with Difficulty

I deal with difficulty daily. I solve problems and make things happen, but it often isn’t easy. That’s pretty much what customer service is – dealing with difficulty and problem solving.

The thing that makes customer service so difficult, including sport customer service, are the emotions that are involved. You and I both have different emotions, history, perspective, and understanding of the world around us that affects how we view and interact with the world and its people. Those things are what make up what I like to call our emotional framework. Our emotional framework is who we are and how we naturally deal with problems. Sometimes a persons emotional framework is naturally aligned with problem solving in a customer service type of role, but often times it is not; it is something that must be developed and practiced. In that case, you’ve got to learn to not just deal with problems, but deal with people. You’ve got to have some understanding of human psychology and hope the mind works.

When you work in a sport customer service role, you must train your emotional framework to support the emotional framework of others, at least as far as it relates to the area in which you work – selling tickets, soliciting donations and serving donors, giving directions, selling hot dogs, scanning tickets at the gates, etc. When you understand the basics of how to deal with someone who is being more emotional than rational, you’ll be in a better position to help them calm down and get what they want.

If you don’t have what they want, you will at least be able to help them understand and be ok with the fact that they are not going to get what they want – you are effectively managing their expectations. I’m not an expert in psychology and am in no way certified in any human science, but I do know that honesty is always the best policy. Don’t say anything that isn’t true, don’t lie and don’t cheat, but don’t give away your credibility and reveal information that shouldn’t be divulged.

Here are a few tips on how to handle difficult conversations in sport customer service:
– Remember it’s not about you, as an individual; you do however represent something greater than yourself and should carry yourself and act in a befitting manner
– Listen intently and with empathetic body language
– Repeat what the customer is asking; be clear about what it is that they want
– If you don’t have an immediate answer, let the person know that you will find someone else who can assist them with their concern, then go do this right away
– If you do have an immediate answer, let the person know; offer the news in a compassionate way that lets them know you understand what they wanted
– Watch someone else handle a few customer service interactions if you are not comfortable with this conversation at first
– Ask someone to mentor you or observe you during your shift for constructive criticism and feedback

To be successful in sport customer service, you’ve got to care about what it is that you are doing and have a genuine interest in people and the organization for which you work. If you don’t, your intentions will show and it is likely you won’t have very many positive interactions with your constituents. Sport customer service is a skill that must be learned and continually developed by practicing the steps above. This is in no way an exhaustive list, but as your understanding of the organization and its policies grows, so will your confidence in being able to handle customer requests – which, let’s be honest, are sometimes completely irrational. Keep your cool, be honest, demonstrate compassion, and be a good resource for your fans. After all, this is sports – let’s have fun!

Here are a few other posts I’ve written on customer service:

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Christmas Sponsorship Activation

I haven’t shared any videos on Bill’s Sports Business Blog yet, but this one is definitely worth sharing.

After watching this video, consider the impact you have on your fans each and every day of the year, especially during your season. Now consider how you can do a Christmas sponsorship activation like this for your fans. First of all, your team would have to be playing in the month of December if you do something Hanukah or Christmas related (post-season college football, NFL, basketball). If you have a team like this, an arena wide activation might be too much, but a good idea for a sponsorship activation might be to invite only your donors, founding members or suite holders.

Another idea for a Christmas sponsorship activation would be to involve the community and do this for local foster kids, a homeless shelter, Boys and Girls Club, or some other organization that is unique to your community. Especially when it’s cold outside, it’s always a great thing to invite folks in where it is warm and especially great when you can share a meal with someone else. If you’re a college or university, what a great way to teach your student athletes the importance and meaning of family and service. If your team or organization already has a non-profit partner, work with them to find a way to help those less fortunate in your community.

Certainly WestJet will keep getting some great PR for this ad and will be in the hearts and minds of those particular passengers for sure. If you are not in the position of being able to do a holiday or Christmas sponsorship activation of that grandeur with your fans, consider how impactful a staff full of people ready and willing to serve your fans on a regular basis is in the long run. The more attentive your staff can be on a regular basis, the more likely your relationship with them will remain strong.

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Are you actually on a mission? Or are you just saying you are? What does it mean to be on a mission? Do you have a mission statement? Do you tell people what it is that you stand for, what you represent, and what your purpose is?

Mission is important but it’s even more important to be clear about the difference of just having a mission statement and actually being on a mission.

First – define your mission.
Second – pursue that mission with ferocious intensity.

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Do the Little Things Right

Do the little things right - Seattle Rock'n'Roll Half Marathon
Do the little things right – Photo from the Seattle Rock’n’Roll Half Marathon – Many little things went into making this race a big thing!

That’s a pretty good way to go right? Isn’t that what coaches teach their athletes? Do the little things right? Fully extend on that particular lift. Cut all the way through to the left on that one gap. Make sure you get all the way to this spot on the floor before you make your net move. Make sure you know where the defense is in this one area where the play will be moving. Make sure the bus is here on time to get us to the airport. Make sure we’ve got the right color of uniforms! Those are little things.

It’s the same in sports business, or any business really, isn’t it? The “minor insignificant detail” that ends up costing a million dollars. The one person you know who always wants a receipt. Including your boss on all important emails before they go out to your database. Making sure you post the right price on the website. Not forgetting to leave off a zero off of the number of hotdogs to order. Not forgetting a zero on your coach’s employment contract!

It’s the little things that matter, so do those things right. But it’s also the big stuff that matters too. Don’t be too caught up in doing so many little things that you forget to take the right path toward where you want to end up. You’ve got to have a destination in mind to keep your work honest, otherwise you could be doing the little thing totally wrong!

Do the little things right. It’s mostly little things that make up the big things. Find your balance. Communicate. Work with your team. Stay on track. The last thing you want to do is end up making someone else’s job more difficult or end up cleaning up a mess that could have been prevented. Don’t let that happen to you. Do the little things right.

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Ticket Analytics

Ticket Analytics - Seattle Mariners Media Guides
Seattle Mariners Media Guides – Ticket Analytics

Ticket analytics involves analyzing changes in ticket prices over time. Ticket price changes occur over time for a variety of reason and there are many tools and services you can use to track those changes, including two different websites I’ll mention here in a moment. Before we get to that though, it is important to try to understand why it is important to track these changes and what that means for your organization.

First of all, sports teams set their ticket prices at the beginning of each season based on the team’s performance the prior season, the current conditions of the facility in which they operate their home schedule of games, budget and accounting requirements for revenue goals, inflation, and the perceived value for tickets in the marketplace of their geographic location and general place in society. There are also several other unique and local factors that are outside the scope of this post on ticket analytics. Based on those inputs, the output is the final, published price for which tickets are sold as part of a plan or on a single ticket basis by the team or its distribution partners. Once those prices are published and the tickets are sold, the events for which those tickets grant access hold a perceived value in the hearts and minds of those who hold them and especially, for some events, those who don’t.

It’s been told that the secondary market for tickets began in the mid- to late 19th century with trans-continental railroad tickets for passengers trying to get across the country. Yes, ticket scalpers existed even back then and tried to turn a profit off of unsuspecting travelers trying to get around, surprise surprise. Given the changes in technology since then, we now have access to online ticket analytics tools that allow us to track the prices of tickets on the secondary market, giving teams more insight into the factors that influence the price thresholds that fans are willing to pay in order to gain admission to their often exclusive events.

Back in the early days of scalped train tickets and even up to our current decade for some sports, it was impossible to experience any type of event except in person, that is, until the dawn of television. Even now as many teams across the country and the globe struggle with ticket sales and do everything they can to develop a game experience that encourages live attendance and ticket sales, there is still much to learn about secondary market ticket prices and why they rise and fall they way they do, while still keeping access open to our lower and middle class fans. That is precisely where ticket analytics comes into play.

A few of the factors that influence ticket prices are team success, high-profile players, coaches, and owners (novelty effect), game experience and entertainment, team quality and winning percentage, opponent quality and winning percentage, economic factors of the community, both local and national, and numerous other factors that are too numerous to list here. Given those known factors, we can now track price changes of ticket prices on the secondary market and begin to draw some conclusions as to how accurately teams are pricing their tickets. With that information we can learn and eventually implement variable and dynamic ticket price changes in order to compete with the secondary market for better ticket sales performance and overall revenue. Assuming an accurate account of these numerous economic factors and the known price changes over time, teams can learn to better price their tickets over time in advance and alongside these market factors and get ahead of the secondary market. Perhaps this process may end in a game of diminishing returns, but that has yet to be seen.

So now for my two recommendations on ticket analytics tracking websites – SeatGeek and TiqIQ. Both of these websites offer great information, but more so with the fan in mind and not the sport ticket sales and box office manager, so beware if you try to jump right in expecting great results. Ticket analytics tracking requires some data intelligence and some general intuition with a few goals in mind, so make sure you know why you are doing it and come up with a few goals before you begin. There are several data companies that will do this for a fee, so do your research if you plan on taking ticket analytics more seriously.

Let me know what you think or if your organization is involved with this in some way – I’m interested in hearing what other teams and organizations are doing in terms of ticket analytics.

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