I’m not the biggest NFL fan in the world, but now that I live in Boston, I follow the Patriots. I think it’s actually a requirement of citizenship.
And I do have a passing interest in some other teams. Who doesn’t love watching anyone named “Manning” throw a football? (Unless it’s against the Pats in the Super Bowl.)
With that as background, may I say that the now-ended lockout of NFL refs set the low watermark in football customer experience? Yeah, customer experience — not just for all those who buy tickets, but for all of us who “pay” for the games with our time by watching ads.
Lest we forget, let’s count some of the ways that the replacement refs ruined our Sunday afternoons and Monday nights:
- Stopping the game every other play to try and figure out what really happened. Football is supposed to be a sport, guys, not a meeting of the local debate team.
- Making game-changing calls that the replay showed were dead wrong. Hey, if you screw up, 'fess up — then make it right and move on. My sixth-grader knows that, so why doesn’t Roger Goodell?
- Clogging the air time on ESPN with self-righteous defenses of their bad calls. (Okay, that didn’t happen on Sunday afternoons or Monday nights, but it was worse because it spread more pain across three weeks when all I wanted was to see the top 10 sports plays from the previous day. Argh!)
What was the root cause of this disaster? The answer is that the NFL owners — who locked out the refs as a negotiating ploy — thought that the bad customer experience they inflicted on fans wasn’t going to hurt their business. From their inside-out perspective, that made sense. After all, the ratings for NFL broadcasts have been going up this season despite the "Amateur Night in Podunkville" performance of the refs.
A slow but steadily building populist uprising of fans might have reversed that viewership trend over time. We’ll never know that for sure, though, because on Monday night The Refs That Couldn’t Shoot Straight made such a colossally bad call in the Green Bay Packers versus Seattle Seahawks game that the fan protests turned from Occupy Wall Street into Arab Spring overnight.
And the leaders of the revolt? The media. While covering the game, ESPN analyst Jon Gruden called the job the replacement refs were doing "tragic and comical." After that, the volume of criticism by sportscasters — superfans if there ever were any — went to 11. With NFL players and former players piling on, the owners seemed to wake up. And two days later, we all woke up — to the news that the lockout had been settled pending a vote by the refs to approve the deal.
In our new book, Outside In, my co-author and I lay out a number of lessons that every organization should learn about the business impact of customer experience. Here are two that apply to this mess.
First, no industry is immune to the impact of a bad customer experience on business. That lesson applies to banks that keep trying to raise revenue by charging nuisance fees (but then lose customers to credit unions). It applies to business-to-business software companies that impose ridiculous “on-premises” licensing fees (but then lose customers to “pay-as-you-go” models” offered by competitors with a software-as-a-service model). And it applies to health insurance companies that held consumers captive for years through deals they cut with their employers (but now get forced by new laws to deliver a better experience by not denying coverage for pre-existing conditions, for example).
Second, it’s not just customer-facing employees who create a customer experience; it’s also everyone who works behind the scenes. In the NFL, the players directly create the experience, but it was the owners who broke the experience for fans. Similarly, if your sales associates treat customers poorly, think about the compensation policy your finance and human resources departments created that rewards their bad behavior. And if your phone agents get flooded with calls by customers who don’t understand their bills, examine the product bundles and pricing that your marketing department created that’s confusing the customers. Because the only way you’ll fix the experience is to align your customer experience ecosystem so that everyone in the business works together to a common end.
Bottom line: If you want your business so thrive in what we call the age of the customer, these are lessons that you’ll take to heart.