I’m a gigantic San Francisco Giants fan — so, two World Series Championships in three years has been something of a dream come true. But when I was a kid, my family was devoted to the Oakland A’s — as they won three consecutive championships from 1972-1974.
As a much younger adult, I worked for the Giants — but today, I live about five miles from o.Co Coliseum, the home of the A’s. I get to go to games in both parks — and, of course, I’m constantly keeping an eye out for how well the two teams do in managing the customer experience.
The people in charge of this job for each team headed to New York in August to sit on the closing panel at CRM Evolution, and each one of them does a commendable job in delivering the best experience they can. However, there’s a decided difference — and it shows how foundational the idea of customer experience must be.
Different Venues, Different Experiences
The A’s play in what was built as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum back in the late 1960s. Like most stadiums, it was funded by municipal entities — and they retain ownership. The concessions, the parking, the food services are all contracted out to third parties. That leaves the A’s in a bit of a lurch: they can control some aspects of the customer experience (the team on the field, the stuff shown on the JumboTron between innings, the promotional items given away, etc.), but others are mostly out of their hands.
That can make it hard to deliver a great top-to-bottom experience at what is now o.Co. For example, this season at an A’s-Yankees game, I had a run-in with the most terrifying hot dog I have ever had. That was not the Athletics’ fault — but it was part of the overall experience. I don’t suspect many fans examine events at the ballpark and cogitate upon what’s the team’s doing and what’s the responsibility of the stadium’s contractors.
The stadium’s also old and somewhat grim, and a football-centric renovation at the behest of the co-tenant Raiders has deprived it of the look of a baseball stadium (which it had before the erection of an enormous centerfield edifice known derisively as “Mt. Davis,” after the Raiders’ late managing partner Al Davis). And the team has an owner who has a knack for outraging the local fan base with his ongoing and outspoken efforts to move the team to San Jose (or Fremont, or anywhere but Oakland).
Given that foundation, the A’s do exceptionally well at delivering as great a customer experience as they deliver.
Travel about 10 miles and you find the Giants facility. It’s newer (12 years old), it’s located in a revitalized and lively part of San Francisco — and, most importantly, the Giants own it. They paid for its construction themselves. That means they make all the decisions around the customer experience: what food is sold, what merchandise is offered, and, perhaps most important, who works for the team.
This makes a big difference. While the Giants maintain control of the on-the-field experience like the A’s do, they also control everything else that goes on in the park, up to and including how the employees interact with the fans.
Because the Giants were able to lay a foundation that allows them to control what goes on in their stadium, today they have a lot more flexibility in controlling the customer experience. I’m not sure that was on their minds when the stadium was built — they needed to fund it privately to build a replacement for the notorious wind-tunnel that was Candlestick Park — but a fantastic by-product has been a noticeable and consistent level of quality of the overall customer experience at AT&T Park.
One other thing: if you saw any footage of the Giants’ victory parade from yesterday, you may have seen some non-players marching in it — a lot of them. That’s because every Giants employee — parking attendant, usher, food concession worker, ticket taker — was given a place in the parade, where they were cheered loudly by the fans. When your employees are being cheered by your customers, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’ve created a great customer experience.
It also shows that the Giants consider their employees critical to their success — and certainly vital to building a great experience for customers. Not only does the parade give the Giants a chance to reward their workers, it also reinforces in them how important their role is with the team — and how much they are appreciated for it.
For most businesses, there aren’t many constraints on the experiences you create for your customers — unless they are of your creation. Have you built processes or policies that stop your business from doing the things that convert customers into fans? Is there something about your facilities or the way you deliver your products that erode your customers’ good feelings toward the business? Are you able to look at how you interact with customers to understand how they see you, and to make adjustments to make your interactions better? And are you able to make sure your employees understand their vital role in creating customer experiences, and then give them opportunities for recognition when they succeed?
Baseball is a game of fundamentals — but so is the creation of customer experiences. The small things — the details, sometimes — are what keep buyers coming back.
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