How Applying Key Sports Principles Can Boost Your Customers’ Experience


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You might recall how I like to say, “None of us are as clever as all of us.” Recently I decided that I would like to leverage the power behind that phrase. So, we asked you, our readers to submit your thoughts, ideas, reactions, lists, or whatever else you have to offer, that we can then discuss. Sound fun? Then, click here to learn more and submit.

Since my request, we were lucky enough to have a new one from Justin Stafford ([email protected]), founder of Customer Smarts, based in Sydney, Australia, and podcast host of “Customer Smart.” Justin shared how sports can teach us a lot about how to improve your Customer Experience. Here’s what he has to say:

First, I am grateful that Justin took the time to share this with us. I thought this analogy was really good, brilliant in fact. Moreover, Justin could make a go of it as a sports commentator if he was so inclined. Plus, even if you’re not familiar with Australian rules football, the sports metaphors work well. Analogies are a great way of communicating.

There is No “I” in Team

We had a podcast recently where we discussed the role of finance in the customer experience. There, we also discussed the supply chain. In many ways, an improved Customer Experience is a supply chain.

Here is one of the ways that Justin’s metaphor works well. For many sports, not every position on the field is equally likely to score. However, for the team to work well (i.e., score), everyone needs to be working together harmoniously.

The same is true of many organizations. Many times, sales are the people in the flashiest position in the company. Since they close the deals, they accumulate power and have more influence in the organization than some of the other positions.

However, in sports, it’s clear that even the flashy players, like the quarterback in American Football, depend on their offensive line to get their job done. If they ignore them, or ignore the defense they are facing, they will not get the yards they need to hold onto the ball.

Therefore, Justin’s sports metaphor works well in that regard. Sales is often closing the deal, but finance and IT and operations, need to be on board with the idea sales is selling. Particularly, all departments need to be on board with increasing customer value.

I’m a season ticket holder at Luton Town Football Club. I am excited to say that Luton Town has been promoted to the Premiership in the English League, playing other teams you might be familiar with like, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal, and Man City. I see many of the same things happening in football that Justin describes from the AFL.

In football, the forwards tend to get paid more than the other positions, like say the left back. The left back position is a bit of boring job spent defending. It’s not glamorous. However, the center forwards are, often getting double the amount of money than any other player on the team.

In sales, it’s a bit similar isn’t it? The salespeople tend to make more money than the other employees, maybe even double some salaries, depending on the position you compare and the compensation system of the sales team. Therefore, it isn’t unusual for people to be a bit jealous of the sales people.

However, those sales people couldn’t do what they do unless the other positions do what they do. It’s essential that these accounts the salespeople bring in get service from the customer service team, and clear invoices from the accounting team, and excellent accuracy from the shipping team, and so on. Therefore, you can see that sales isn’t more important, even if they do make more than their operational counterparts. Salespeople are dependent upon those teams working toward that goal alongside—just like that highly-compensated forward needs the left back to defend against the opposition.

In other words, sports teams are not champions because of an individual, and neither are businesses. Success comes from buying into a cohesive system. For business, that system should be providing the customer value.

A Sign of Dysfunction in an Organization

One sign of dysfunction I have observed in organizations is an internal focus for grabbing power. Another way to describe it is defending one’s turf. The idea is that an individual or a department wants to increase their reach or shift blame away from themselves.

However, when you think about a sports team, they function well when everyone knows their role. They are clear that in this part of the field or on the court, their job is to do this thing. Many companies would be wise to adopt a similar strategy in their organizations.

Many companies could be better at defining these roles, particularly when a department is reaching outside of their area of expertise. If leadership could define the various responsibilities and how they feed into the larger process, departments could see the bigger picture.

To be clear, sports has an easier time of that than businesses do, but the concept is the same. Plus, defining and connecting the roles helps everyone respect the other players in the system.

Respect is key to overcome this dysfunction. Remember, sports teams fall apart when people do not respect the job they have been given. If defense tries to take an offensive role because they want more glory, the team will fail. The same is true if sales tries to take over operations.

Be More Customer Centric in Your Organization

Justin’s video makes a lot of excellent points, including the overarching theme about adopting a customer-centric strategy in the organization. It is essentially a call for all of us to be more customer-centric in our ways.

I worry that some people will hear Justin, or read my sentence and roll their eyes and consider that old news. To be fair, it isn’t something we haven’t heard before.

I am a big believer in customer centricity. It is useful and important as an idea. It should drive us, even if the concept is measured in decades rather than years. Just because it isn’t new doesn’t mean it isn’t pertinent and useful.

Many people in our area want to find the newest, shiniest idea. Who doesn’t, really? But if you haven’t minded the basics, the foundational elements of providing an experience that customers value, then how can that new idea move you forward? Instead, that new idea will distract you from what you really need to do, which is put the customer at the center of everything you do.

It’s not just me saying this about customer centricity either. Lots of evidence exists that customer-centric firms perform better in the stock market. They also have more customer loyalty and, yes, more sales.

Nevertheless, we still have operationally and product-led firms. While those are useful, those strengths would be better served by providing service to customers. It is the customer that matters.

Therefore, we will continue to beat the customer-centricity drum as long as we need to. It’s not a new idea but it’s an important idea. Moreover, many companies still have quite a bit of opportunity there.

Justin said a couple more things that really struck home with me. For example, he said when you get a new CEO, they want to make an impression, do something different. So, why not make that new thing customer centricity? It can be a home run.

Also, he said that coaches are great communicators, which is true. So, embrace those skills to keep moving the ball forward in the organization, too.

In addition, Justin makes the case for a system, which can be the product system and/or the customer-centric system. However, as Justin points out, changing to the system isn’t an overnight thing. When you make that change, sometimes things go wrong. Nevertheless, you should continue.

Moreover, everyone needs to fully understand their role in the system. They need to know what they do and why it matters. It’s not just the front-line teams that need to change; everyone does. All employees are part of the system, and everyone plays an integral role.

Finally, Justin points out that you have to have faith in the system. It takes time for these things to work. If you can give people time to absorb their role, they can do what they need to take care of your customers, which creates a win-win for everyone.

Colin has spoken at hundreds of conferences, including some of the world’s largest brands. Talk to Colin about how he can speak ‘in person’ or ‘virtually’ at your conference. Click here.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colin Shaw
Colin is an original pioneer of Customer Experience. LinkedIn has recognized Colin as one of the ‘World's Top 150 Business Influencers’ Colin is an official LinkedIn "Top Voice", with over 280,000 followers & 80,000 subscribed to his newsletter 'Why Customers Buy'. Colin's consulting company Beyond Philosophy, was recognized by the Financial Times as ‘one of the leading consultancies’. Colin is the co-host of the highly successful Intuitive Customer podcast, which is rated in the top 2% of podcasts.


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