Football's Moments of Truth

Wednesday 16th September 2015 at 7:34AM

Football has only recently become acquainted with the concept of ‘touch points’.  It sounds like a term encountered by someone pursuing their coaching badges, but is, in actual fact, one of the areas on which customer-facing businesses outside of sport focus a lot of attention and one which football clubs ignore at their peril.

Touch points are the steps encountered by the customer in the process of using a supplier’s services or engaging in the experiences they provide.   Some may be fairly innocuous, but some (often referred to as ‘moments of truth’) can create perceptions that can be the difference between a lifelong relationship and an immediate ‘divorce’.

Football’s traditionally narrow view of its ‘customers’ (kept at an arm’s length; only interested in the winning; somewhere between punter and potential criminal, etc.) is changing, but one of the best ways you can measure the true extent of this change is by examining the experience of fans at its various ‘match day’ touch points.

The one that I like to use as my cultural weathervane is the ‘first point of contact’. That’s actually a collection of touch points including club marketing; viewing the club’s website and also calling the club or dropping in to its ticket office. The experiences of new fans, in particular, sometimes offer a telling insight into the culture at the club.

Let me illustrate this.  I remember calling a club several years ago. I explained that I was coming to my first game and was bringing my elderly father and young son with me. I was immediately asked ‘where do you want to sit?’

Given I’d not been there before and didn’t benefit from the gift of extrasensory perception, I couldn’t answer that question. So I explained again that we hadn’t been there before. This time, more help: ‘do you want to sit at the side or behind the goal?’ Getting there, fair enough, but still nothing that indicated that the needs of my Dad or, indeed, my young son were being considered.

One of the other curious idiosyncrasies of the football experience is the fact that official websites – a key touch point - are probably far more important to new or infrequent fans than they are to diehards, as they’re the ones needing the information. Bizarrely, however, most websites still stubbornly fail to take this factor into account.

Some mischievous souls would venture that official websites are seldom used by anyone, since the core fraternity rejects what it interprets as the corporate ‘shtick’ of the ‘official’ message, preferring to use other independent media services.  Those considering attending their first game find so little of use on cluttered and unhelpful home pages that they may end up seeking succour elsewhere too.

On the assumption that part of the desired growth at clubs must, in part, come for new sources, it’s important that the website is inclusive of these needs and yet, until Reading FC first broke the mould 3 years ago and featured a concourse food menu on their website, not one British football club had actually ever explained what it had to offer. For one group – young families – where the food is the expected high point for the quickly bored youngster, having no information on the official site is a major fail, since parents want to be able to manage their kids’ expectations. Is there food? What food do you sell? How much does it cost? Answer those questions and I’ll plan accordingly. Remain taciturn and I’ll be tempted to eat before we arrive or bring our own food.

Many clubs do provide extremely useful information services on their websites: match day guides, first time fan information, activities available to extend the 90 minutes and services such as social clubs, family rooms and children’s entertainment.  But because these services are aimed at the passing and / or new customer, they must be clearly visible under a meaningful heading and intuitively reached, otherwise they run the risk of being missed.

The football vernacular is evolving, but it can also be complex to the uninitiated. I recall a friend of mine ringing a club several years ago to enquire about taking her kids to a game. ‘Can I book places in advance?’ she said, with a reckless lack of respect for the accepted lingo. ‘No need’ the voice at the other end of the line replied, ‘it’s pay on’t gate.’ Hard as she tried she could not rid her mind of the image of a farmer leaning against a stile and holding on to a leather cash bag.

Finally, here’s a thing: a touch point that clubs are always striving to improve, when the answer may be to remove it all together: season ticket renewal. We devote scarce resources to imploring our season ticket holders to renew, only to effectively ditch them twelve months later and begin the process again (usually with some tired ‘message’ in preference to pro-active season-long engagement).

I question the long-term feasibility of the annual renewal. Monthly membership (with an opt out required from the supporter) seems to indicate far less risk, assuming some basic engagement is achieved throughout the season.

Season ticket holder parties have become the norm in the USA. Divide the number of ST holders by the number of weeks in the year and invite a group in every week to meet the CEO, the manager, some players and some backroom staff. Have an open, unrestricted debate, talk about why you love the club, share stories, agree why the Club matters and what more can be done to reinforce the club’s identity in ways that improves sentiment and grows the Club. Now that’s a touch point that drives up renewal levels and one that we don’t have here.

The risk is that the new fans we need to survive and thrive are often experiencing an attitude of ‘this is how it is, like it or lump it’, while long term supporters’ continued loyalty is challenged by a short term, superficial ‘call to action’ that only highlights the low levels of engagement they experience.

By taking a closer look at these touch points however, not only will we see where the gaps are, but we’ll start to develop the ‘customer’ mind set that growing clubs need.

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