A version of this article, how to become a customer centricity champion, appeared in the recent CSPNetwork newsletter and on www.cspnetwork.org


  • The Government’s new Sports Strategy advocates a more ‘customer-centered’ and collaborative approach by all parts of the sector. “This strategy is first and foremost about meeting the needs of the customer, understanding what they need at different stages in their life”. Sporting Future.
  • Focusing on the needs of the end customers is good for business. Sports organisations will be able to add more value to national and local partners, increase effectiveness and sustainability, and hence meet their key objectives.
  • At the heart of customer-centric organisations is a strong conviction that success comes from consistently focusing on a defined group of customers.

Customer centricity is a conviction not a strategy

The world, and hence customer expectations, is constantly evolving. Selling functional products and services is now rarely enough. Customers expect their entire experience to make them feel good. Despite this, the number of organisations that can consistently deliver great customer experiences are few and far between. Those that do have evolved beyond a customer service mindset to embrace customer centricity. Virgin and Air New Zealand create memorable experiences for passengers, while Amazon are making shopping an ever faster and simpler experience.

At the heart of every customer centric organisation is a strong belief that they will win if the customer wins. This is more than a marketing strategy or business goal. Customer-centricity is a passion that fuels every decision and action. It’s “how we do things around here” and hence it’s baked into the mission, values and priorities.

A great example Virgin founder Richard Branson, a lifelong customer centricity champion. In a great blog post, Branson talks about why Virgin Atlantic, then Virgin Blue and ultimately Virgin America were founded. They were founded by frustration with the customer experience, and a strong vision for creating a better way. Winning was about much more than profit. Winning was measured by whether the customers won; be it through better options, lower prices or more fun.

It’s easy to dismiss this as a luxury that big companies can afford. But the philosophy of “we only win if the customer wins” has been part of the Virgin culture since Branson’s very first record shop.

What is customer-centric sport?

“The sporting landscape has changed enormously in the last decade with shifting social patterns giving rise to new activities while others decline in popularity. Sport England’s new investment strategy seeks to put the customer first, focus on those least active and transform how sport is delivered across the country.”
Tracey Crouch MP, Minister for Sport Tourism & Heritage

So what does customer-centricity have to do with sport? Everything. After all, the passion to get people out enjoying sport is what drives many people to work in the industry. But the experience that customers enjoyed 20, 10 or even 5 years ago isn’t necessarily what they want now. For sport and physical activity to thrive and grow over the next decade, our industry needs to evolve along with our potential customers.

Who is the sporting customer?

An early sticking point for customer centric sport is often agreeing who the customer actually is. Departments have different “customers” for their work and staff want to provide them with good “customer service”. External partners may directly provide revenue, or at least have the direct relationship with participants. This all leads to a broad and confusing definition of the customer, and hence too many competing priorities.

“If there’s one reason we have done better than of our peers in the Internet space over the last six years, it is because we have focused like a laser on customer experience” Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon

Nike has a mission “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.” As a result, everything from their marketing to their product design is laser focused on the end athlete rather than its various partners or stakeholders.

Similarly, Amazon’s mission is to be Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online. While they have many important stakeholders and B2B partners, many of whom provide Amazon with direct revenue, they are very clear who their “customer” is.

So who is the sporting customer? To get the ball rolling, I believe the ultimate customer is the person actually engaging with the activities as a participant, coach, official or volunteer. So a simple definition of customer-centric sport becomes: offering anyone engaging in sport and physical activity a great experience that is based on their needs.

3 steps to becoming a customer centricity champion

Building on this definition, here are 3 suggested actions to strengthen your ability to champion customer-centricity.

1. Agree who your customer really is

It’s vital that you make the tough choices about who the target customer is. Trying to please all potential customers equally, will consume a lot of energy and still leave many ‘customers’ with an average (at best) experience.

2. Build a strong conviction by creating role models

Customer-centricity is a passion that runs through a whole organisation, driving every decision. This means that leaders must role model this commitment to making decisions based on how they impact the customer experience. This role modelling must be supported by a mission/vision/values/priorities that focus the organisation on it’s target customers.

3. Review how decisions are currently being made

Organisations can’t be a bit customer-centric. ’Centricity’ implies there is a consistent way of making decisions, one that makes decisions predictable. Look back over recent management decisions and discuss whether they were centred on the experience of customers, members, competition structures, rules, stakeholders, programmes etc. Where does your organisation seem to be currently centred?