December 19, 2013 by Jeff James, Vice President & General Manager, Disney Institute
Caption: New York City, 12th Annual IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, December 12, 2013. Pictured from left to right: (Bubba Cunningham, Athletic Director, University of North Carolina; Jeff James, Vice President & General Manager, Disney Institute; Rob Temple, Vice President, Sports Management, ESPN; Joe Ferreira, Senior Vice President & Chief Content Officer, Learfield Sports; Scott Stricklin, Athletic Director, Mississippi State University; Kelli Hilliard, Senior Vice President, Events, Entertainment and Development, IMG College and Bonnie Bernstein, Vice President, Content and Brand Development & On-Air Host, Campus Insiders.)
Last week, I had the opportunity to serve on a panel during the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in New York City. The session was called “Innovations that Add to the Game-Day Experience,” And, no surprise, my fellow panelists and I spent a lot of time talking about technological advancements that will change the nature of the in-stadium fan experience.* Despite these exciting changes, there was one element that we all agreed had to remain top priority: quality, personalized customer service.
There is no denying that innovations in technology, physical structures and setting - the “hardware” side, play a central role in many organizations. Stadiums are no exception. As stadiums improve the “hardware” in their venues, they cannot ignore innovations in technology. New technology is touching every aspect of the sports experience, from purchasing tickets to tracking a team to game day itself. However, technology cannot and should not replace human interactions and the personalized customer experience, what you might call the “software” side.
Disney is fortunate to receive a lot of positive comments from Guests who visit our destinations year after year. Yet with all of the great attractions, shows and technology we use to create the Disney Guest experience, rarely do those comments ever point out these particular attributes in the parks. Guests almost always talk about a connection they had with a guest-facing Disney Cast Member. (Cast Member = Disney Employee)
If excellent customer service is not part of the experience, new technology can actually be a double-edged sword by providing one more element that can frustrate a customer. And, customers today have more platforms than ever where they can instantly voice their frustrations outward via their social networks.
Sticking with conversation from our sports panel, it may be exciting to upgrade your seat on game day because a new app told you about a last-minute cancellation. However, excitement quickly fades if the stadium greeter does not make eye contact when you explain the situation, if they cannot find your new reservation, or if they transfer you to other employees who are preoccupied or disengaged.
When you finally sit in your new seats, your great view of the field can easily be overshadowed by your negative view of the service. Now, if your team wins, poor service may be forgiven. But, win or lose, does poor service lead you to think about watching future games from home? Many professional and collegiate sports organizations have realized that it does.
Remember, in sports, and any other business that serves a fan or customer, the little “wows,” can have as much impact as big ones. The game-day experience is not only about touchdowns and buzzer-beaters. It is a collection of moments that add up to a fan’s overall impression. How easy was it to use that new technology? What kind of welcome did you get when you arrived at the stadium? Did you get the assistance you needed when asking for directions? Was it a friendly interaction when you ordered food?
Quality service is an essential foundation on which to build innovations in the game-day experience. No amount of technology is going to completely replace the human side of a customer experience and it is those memorable customer interactions that will separate you from your competition, which also has the latest “gadgets” to offer.
When have you had a positive fan experience? What are the “little wows” that stand out?
*Disney Institute is the division of The Walt Disney Company focused on exporting Disney business insights to organizations around the world. With experience spanning a variety of industries, Disney Institute assists collegiate and professional sport franchises in transforming the fan experience.