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Volume 20 No. 41
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Delivering exceptional experiences creates extraordinary fans

Executives in most industries struggle to consistently deliver exceptional customer experiences. Most products lack sufficient inspiration or differentiation to warrant presenting them as even remotely exceptional, and sophisticated customers have grown wary of companies trying to repackage and recast their goods as something more desirable.

But sports teams have unique relationships with their customers — their fans. Fans, by definition, are wildly devoted to a unique product on the playing field — their team. For many fans, an unobstructed view of the game meets their expectations for a fan experience. And some fans enjoy exceptional experiences: She catches a foul ball; he gets an autograph; they meet a celebrity sitting nearby. Such exceptional fan moments, which could potentially happen every game, typically happen randomly and unpredictably and become unforgettable moments for the few fans who experience them.

But what if a team could intentionally deliver exceptional, unforgettable fan experiences to everyone who came to watch every game? Wouldn’t the team create more fans? Greater buzz? Better attendance?

Think of it as creating a culture. Fans are devoted, passionate disciples of their teams, the objects of their obsession. Is it possible to enhance the total fan experience so that they leave more passionate than before they arrived?

If you are a team executive, consider the following:

Gather your own research.

Before, during and after the next game, gather first-hand data. Walk around the arena and observe what’s happening. How are fans greeted and engaged throughout their experience? Introduce yourself as a team executive and ask random fans to share their experiences with you; most will love the attention. Ask for specifics about what they hate, like and love, and what would make their day. Who engaged them and how? Ask what they don’t experience presently that would make their experience exceptional if they did. Then think: If you were a fan, what would make your fan experience exceptional?

Define exceptional fan experiences.

Carefully review your research. Brainstorm and narrow a list of items that would define an exceptional fan experience in your arena.

Imagine again that you’re a fan: Would these items, no matter how small, if delivered, serve up an exceptional fan experience for you? Determine what you need with respect to people, processes and physical plant modifications to ensure those items are met. Strategize to meet them.

Develop your fan experience mantra.

You need a mantra that will serve as a standard of exceptional fan care. For example:

“We are happy only when every fan is elated.”

“Nothing is more important than exceeding our fans’ expectations.”

“Have I created a fan today?”

You’ll know the mantra has power when every one of your fan-facing employees can recite it at the drop of a hat.

Get passionate fans in fan-facing roles and train and empower them.

All fan-facing employees of a team should be tasked with creating more passionate fans.
Consider your fan-facing people: ushers, ticket-takers, security, concession workers, suite hosts. Have they been tasked with creating more passionate fans? Who better to inspire fanaticism among your fan base than actual fans who actually work for your team? Fans relate to and help create fans. Imagine a fair-weather fan, ticket in hand, looking for his seat. An usher approaches and has some options. He could:

Point the fan in the direction of his seat and send him on his way (“Your seat is two sections over.”); or,

Politely greet the fan and escort him to the seat (“Here you are. Let me know if I can assist you.”); or,

Engage and educate the fan with team details that most average fans would not be privy to (“Here you are. To help you enjoy the game, let me familiarize you with our concessions. Are you a Yankees’ fan? Who’s your favorite? Yes, I love CC too. That guy is so friendly. When he walks in the park, he takes pictures with anyone. But don’t ask him on days he’s pitching!”)

To ensure a consistent level of fan care, your people need to be trained and empowered to anticipate fan needs and to deliver exceptional experiences. At a minimum, fan-facing employees should be trained in situational awareness, verbal and nonverbal interpersonal communication, and fan-centric behavior, so they think like fans and tailor experiences to thrill them.

Measure effectiveness.

Examine before and after fan-satisfaction data. Periodically observe and interact with fans to see what needs tweaking … and then tweak it. Keep your fan experience mantra in mind: Is every fan enjoying an exceptional experience when they come to a game? If not, why not?

Recognize those who deliver exceptional fan experiences.

If you’ve effectively defined an exceptional fan experience, hired and trained passionate fans for fan-facing roles, and empowered them to deliver exceptional fan experiences, prepare to witness eye-popping results. Be ready to recognize employees who exhibit exceptional behavior. Share emails you receive from fans. Give gift cards or hand-written notes to deserving employees. Celebrate the wins. There will be many.

Teams might wonder how to quantify the benefit of consistently creating exceptional fan experiences. Passionate fans routinely talk with friends and post on Twitter and Facebook about their teams. Fans experiencing exceptional fan moments will do the same, but their talk and social media posts will include raves about their exceptional fan experiences. New fans will come to hear what the buzz is about, and soon the experience of attending the game will become an indispensable part of being a fan of the team itself.

Create fans of the experience. Listen to them talk about It. Watch your fan base grow and intensify.

Sean O’Neil ( is CEO of One to One Leadership (, and author of “Bare Knuckle People Management.” Maureen Kelly ( is an international customer experience expert and consultant to the automotive industry.