Happy Customer: Creative Ways to Keep Your Season Ticket Holders Happy Throughout the Year
Mon, 07/05/2004 - 12:13 — Dan Migala
It is the end of the season, do you know how happy your season ticket holders are?
There is a growing disparity between the organizations that make a commitment to over-delivering to their season ticket holders and those that do not put a premium on service. It should not be a surprise that it is these organizations that continually are annually among the top of their respective leagues in season ticket renewals regardless of team performance.
For these teams, the difference is customer service and a constant emphasis on discovering new ways to please their best customer.
The aim of this Report is to showcase how several teams are committed to customer service on a year-round basis and the ideas that continually fuel their plan.
Obsessed with customer service
“Every fan. Every time.”
These words greet the Houston Texans’ sales executives every time they enter the office in the same way that a motivational sign might embrace a team’s locker room because that is how serious the team is when it comes to servicing their season ticket holders.
The sign serves as a visual reminder of the organization’s unconditional commitment to customer service that constantly challenges their staff to achieve their goal to “Create Raving Fans.”
Constant visual reminders like this, mixed in with a total organization pledge to customer service, are just the beginning of the story of why J.D. Power ranked the Texans’ gameday customer service as the tops in all of the National Football League.
“Customer service is not easy because the only way to make your customers happy all the time is with constant hard work,” said Jamey Rootes, Senior Vice President and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer of the Texans. “We are obsessed with it because we want to constantly exceed their expectations and let them know how much we appreciate them.”
Many teams place a focus on customer service but fail to meet these expectations because of the elements beyond their control or an inability to measure results and accountabilities.
The Texans discovered a way around these traditional roadblocks in part because they refused to create any barriers to premium customer service.
A traditional challenge with any team is a facility operator or concessionaire operator that employs gameday personnel that are minimum wage workers who often do not have a real interest in the team or doing a good job.
The Texans avoided this perpetual problem by including a memorandum of understanding in their services contract with SMG and Aramark, the respective building manager and concessionaire for Reliant Energy Stadium. The M.O.U. included a list of 12 practices that each company will be held accountable for as part of the agreement.
Included among the items agreed on were hiring the highest quality people, continually placing a premium on customer service with training and reinforcements as well as requiring every staffer and team executive to sign the team’s “Code of Conduct” as part of their employment. (For a copy of this contract, click here)
“Anybody that has worked for a team knows how easy it is for either of these companies to take their eye off the ball and that it why we put it in writing,” Rootes said.
To help hold these companies accountable, the team hired an independent research firm to create their own version of secret shoppers during each game that rate anything from the quality of the nachos to the cleanliness of the bathroom to individual customers service. The firm creates a two-inch report following every game that chronicles their own experiences and results from gameday surveys with fans.
For the employees, if they receive a poor rating for two games, their employment is terminated immediately.
For the Texans, it serves as a way to quantify customer service as well as understand areas for improvement. It appears to be working as percentage grades for the 2003 season increased for more than 75 percent of the categories reported. (For a complete list of the gameday customer service categories profiled, click here)
“Measurement is critical in any area of our business but you have to quantify success in areas other than sales,” Rootes said. “I can think that the bathrooms are sloppy and my boss might think they are clean but if you have independent research you can put your focus on solving the problem and not on debating if a problem exists. You are creating a measurement of customer service to say either we did it or we did not do it.”
The Texans use these reports during the off-season to identify necessary areas of improvement for the following season through its STEP (Success Through Excellence Program) Program.
STEP places focus on 10 key areas of improvement for the following year and team executives brainstorm on new ideas to upgrade their service in the future.
The Texans also use these reports to reward excellent customer service and regularly reward exceptional customer service with the same perks normally reserved for securing a new business sale.
“We want to create raving fans and it takes a total commitment from everyone in this organization to continue to achieve this,” Rootes said. “If we’re asking them to live up to that sign on the wall then we have got to recognize their efforts constantly and use them as an example for the rest of staff.”
On a daily basis, all notes and e-mail messages from customers are sent to the owner so he can recognize the staff member personally.
During monthly meetings, the team selects its “Spirit of the Bull” award winner. The winner is the employee that exemplifies all of these characteristics and backs it up with action.
An annual winner is also selected and this year’s recipient won a trip to Hawaii.
“We asked ourselves the question in the beginning of ‘what do we want to be?” Rootes said. “The answer is to have the best customer service in all of sports. If management sets this goal then we have to pass along the passions in everyway we can to our staff so our season ticket holders will always have their high expectations exceeded every time they deal with us.”
A significant part of exceeding expectations with season ticket holders is to create more opportunities to build relationships with them.
This is the foundation of the Portland Trail Blazers season ticket holder customer service strategy that proactively views the relationship with them as a 12-month job and not just during the season.
“In this business, it is so easy to just look at the schedule of games and not the rest of the year,” said Declan Bolger, Chief Marketing Officer of the Blazers. “We began to look at the other dates on the calendar and realized that there is a tremendous opportunity to constantly show our fans that they are big part of our family and we want to include them in every opportunity we can.”
Some of these dates are more obvious than others. For example, the team is holding a season ticket holder draft day party in June to commemorate an event that already exists.
For other events, the team is creating events like season ticket holder-only invites to attend practices or question-and-answer sessions with coaches and the front office.
“It is really a sense of inclusion that goes beyond what they are accustomed to on gamedays,” Bolger said.
The opportunity for one-to-one interaction allows the team to create more personal relationships with season ticket holders that gives team executives a chance to better gather honest feedback from their customers that can allow them to better customize offerings on a more individual basis.
It is customized offer that is the foundation of the Trail Blazers’ vision for continuing to enhance customer service in the future.
A year from now, Bolger envisions a plan that will allow season ticket holders the opportunity to customize a benefits package based on their needs, not the team’s.
“The days of one-size-fits-all customer servicing are numbered,” Bolger said. “In order to make sure everyone’s happy, we need to build opportunities that allow them to choose what is best for them.”
For example, if the team has a list of season ticket holder benefits that include a specific number of invites to a family fest and a post-game party at a bar the family customer would want to choose extra passes to the family promotion and the single or corporate customer would be more likely to choose the post-game party.
“People are trained to buy cars and homes based on their specs and we are committed to making season tickets the same way,” Bolger said. “The more we build relationships with our customers the more we will be able to do this and keep them happy for years to come.”
While both the Texans and Trail Blazers have made organizational commitments to growing customer service for their season ticket holders, for many teams, premium customer service all starts with some simple extras for their season ticket holders.
The Class AA Reading Phillies season ticket holders feel special before they even find their seats. The team created a separate season ticket holder entrance that allows them to enter the ballpark with shorter lines and virtually guarantee themselves of receiving that game’s giveaway item. Perhaps most importantly, the ticket takers are able to greet each season ticket holder on first-name basis that is the basis of the team’s folksy-season ticket holder servicing approach.
“They are our best customer and it only makes sense for us to look for simple ideas like this that show our appreciation for them,” said Scott Hunsicker, Assistant General Manager of the Phillies. “It doesn’t cost us anything to do these little extras.”
Included in the team’s other cost-free extras for season ticket holders is a “Season Ticket Holder Hall of Fame.” Located on the concourse next to the team’s Hall of Fame of players who reached the major leagues, the team honors season ticket holders that have been with the team for at least ten years.
Because they are in their inaugural season, the AFL Philadelphia Soul are not ready for a season ticket holder hall of fame but it will not stop them from creating a unique benefit for season ticket holders that helped catapult season ticket sales to nearly 10,000, tops in the AFL.
A major reason for their success was free tickets to a pre-season pep rally that featured a mini-concert by team owner and musician Jon Bon Jovi.
The extra benefit of attending the concert and pep rally, according to Soul Director of Sales Stan Betters had a significant impact on securing season tickets this year.
“It is all about surprising them with benefits you can give them,” Betters said. “We looked at our competitive assets that we have and Bon Jovi and a pep rally was a great way to officially start the season at an event that, unlike the team’s performance, we could control the fan experience and create a unique memory for them that reminds them of why they have season tickets.”
Benefits like access and cherished experiences are also the foundation for the St. Louis Blues approach to season ticket holder happiness.
The Blues annually challenge their staff to create new and unique intimate experiences for their season ticket holders.
This season the team held a season ticket holder only skating party in the last month during a non-gameday that drew 3,000 people. The event served as both a season ticket holder appreciation day and a lead-in to the season ticket holder renewal efforts for next season.
“You want to obviously do as many of these dates as you can,” said Kyle Draper, Senior Director of Sales for the Blues. “But from a strategic standpoint it definitely helps to have one closer to the end of the year to build into renewal efforts.”
This story was originally published on April 1, 2004.
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