Editor’s Note: Chicago Red Stars President and CEO Peter Wilt returns for his second column on Pitch Invasion, considering the critical role good customer service plays in winning fans in American soccer.
One of the basic tenets of the soccer management philosophy I discussed last week was the importance of providing good customer service. It seems rather self evident, but surprisingly few businesses in general and few soccer teams in particular seem to properly navigate the intricate world of customer service to the point that they create an organizational culture of it.
Responsiveness to fan complaints and over delivering on fan experience is an inexpensive way to build fan loyalty and turn fans into advocates who will advertise your team for you. Advertising budgets for American soccer teams are never sufficient to provide the necessary depth and breadth to reach and retain the potential audience in a meaningful way. Good customer service not only retains existing support, it also builds the fan base virally via positive testimonials from the fans themselves.
There are two general categories of good customer service: 1) providing proper response to the inevitable negative fan experience and 2) exceeding fan expectations when interacting with the organization.
Recently I happened to experience both with the Chicago Red Stars.
An unfortunate reality of any business that deals with the public is the likelihood that from time to time, your customers will have negative issues with their experience. The team’s response is an opportunity to win over a fan. . .or lose one for good. Being a tenant at Toyota Park, the Red Stars are once or even twice removed from issues involving parking, concessions, merchandise, security and guest services. This indirect relationship to the fan experience is problematic, because we have less than regular communication with these contracted employees and thus have less influence on their actions and treatment of our fans.
I’ve experienced this dynamic both at Soldier Field (as President and GM of the Chicago Fire) and Toyota Park. At Soldier Field, Fire fans reported countless incidents of verbal and even physical abuse by stadium security and ushers. Our tenant relationship with the stadium was further distanced by the contracted manager who then contracted with separate security and usher firms. Unlike Toyota Park management, Soldier Field management did not have a soccer culture and had a difficult time understanding or accepting soccer fan behavior and expectations.
It took years, but through the Fire’s sympathetic direct response to its fans and brokering enough meetings and relationships with supporter group leadership, security and stadium personnel, we created better understanding, albeit tenuous, with the various parties, which ultimately minimized the negative experiences for Fire fans.Cardinal Stadium, Naperville