At the risk of being self aggrandizing, I’ll submit that as a consultative marketing researcher, I’ve gotten pretty good at asking probing questions. I’ve also become a big proponent of loyalty marketing best practices and rewarding best customers. And while I’ve often espoused that sports marketers shouldn’t make the mistake of ascribing their own behaviors, beliefs or experiences to that of their targets, two recent incidents have me questioning one of my fundamental beliefs about loyalty marketing.
Both personally and professionally, I spend a lot of time around the sport of baseball. I’ve been a loyal longterm season ticket holder for a local professional team and often incorporate out of market games into my travel schedule, making a point of buying the best seats available. Yet, within the span of a week, I was flabbergasted by two horrible examples of poor customer service.
Case 1: Punishing The Customer For a Technology Glitch?
Out of town on business a couple of weeks ago, I jumped on my mobile phone to attempt to secure front row seats for that evening’s game. The technology did not work properly and I was thrown out of the ticket queue. I rectified the situation on my laptop a few minutes later. Moments after that, while en route to the game, I noticed that I had received confirmation for two orders — six premium-priced tickets rather than three.
I proceeded to call customer service, and much to my surprise, was told by both a frontline representative, and that individual’s supervisor that all purchases were final and nothing could be done, and I would be stuck with both orders. My attempts to humor, cajole, and relate my experience in the sports business failed to get either person I spoke with to deviate from the script that they were reading. I flat out lost it.
And after what literally had to be the supervisor’s 10th recitation of the “I certainly hear what you are saying” line, I realized that she wasn’t hearing what I was saying or she would have transferred me to someone empowered to actually do something for a customer that was still prepared to spend north of $400 on tickets to a mid-week ball game. Shamefully, the typical fan would have hit a dead end at this point. Luckily for me, I regained my composure, called an industry friend, who within minutes was able to make the situation right.
Case 2: Not preferred Access for Premium Season Ticket Holders
Literally four days later, I took my son to see a local team, where the first 15,000 in the gates would receive a coveted promotional item. As premium seat season ticket holders, we had access to a VIP entrance and made a point of arriving at the ball park two hours early, only to find lengthy queues at the general admission gates and to subsequently learn that the VIP entrance was not opening until 30 minutes after the other gates. You know the rest. By the time we got in, there were no premiums left. My son was very disappointed.
So What’s the Contradiction?
I said earlier that these two incidents had me questioning one of the tenets of loyalty marketing; specifically, the mantra that best customers should get best treatment. The reason is that, as a loyal and unwavering baseball fan, I know that I am not going to voice my dissatisfaction with my feet. I am still going to go back to see both of these teams play when the opportunity arises, despite the horrible treatment. And thinking back to some research that we did with season ticket holders of another team, I remember coming to the same conclusion. Those respondents, despite expressing their exasperation with perceptions of neglect and lack of adequate recognition and reward for best customers, also acknowledged that they weren’t going anywhere.
So therein lies the conundrum. Where is the breaking point and how does it vary across different segments of customers? As sports marketers, do we put our faith in the premise that some customers are too addicted to what we’re offering, thus negating a need to shower them with the perks of loyalty programs? Or do we hold true to the principles that I’ve embraced, recognizing that these can provide aspirational motivation for those a tier or two below preferred status? As a sports researcher, these are some new questions that I’m burning to ask.