The customer experience is rapidly becoming the key point of differentiation within the sports industry.  Gyms, leisure centres, professional teams and mass participation events are all scrambling to deliver great customer experiences. Experiences that their customers will enjoy, rave about and keep coming back for. 

But wanting to deliver great customer experiences isn’t the same as actually delivering them consistently. We still have a lot to learn.

Customer experience is the new commercial battleground

Gartner has reported that by 2017, 89% of marketers expect customer experience to be their primary differentiator. Companies have been investing in insight capabilities, CRM platforms and staff training designed to help them deliver faster, more relevant, more consistent experiences to their customers.

They know that to keep improving customer experiences, they need to make customer centricity part of their culture not just a service department. If they can’t, then they risk getting overtaken by more nimble organisations that can. For proof of this, just talk to New York taxi drivers or ex-Blockbuster employees.

The potential benefits for sport & fitness

Meanwhile much of the UK sport & fitness sector is still waking up to the potential, and the associated threat of customer experience.

The potential is in our need to reach new audiences who aren’t currently engaging with sport and fitness. The Sport England Active Lives research yesterday reported that 40% of the adult population of England are active for less than the recommended 150 minutes a week. And 47% aren’t engaging with sport and fitness at least once every two weeks.

This presents significant opportunities for sport and fitness organisations to expand into new markets. But to do this we need to evolve and improve the customer experiences – to meet their expectations and engage with them on their terms, not ours.

The risk of doing nothing

Which brings us to the threat of not transforming the customer experience. Current and potential customers don’t see sport and fitness in isolation. The experiences they get from organisations in other industries are heavily influencing their expectations of sport & fitness. So while it make make sense to you to get customers to physically present themselves to sign-up, it makes no sense to people used to buying online with one click.

We face a real risk that sport and fitness activities will become irrelevant to both our core and potential customers. This may sound alarmist but it’s not long ago that renting a friday night video/DVD or checking emails on your Blackberry were common activities. Meanwhile playing eSports and working in coffee shops was rarely done. Many people are working longer hours and many students are working multiple jobs. Our free time is becoming more precious and therefore we are more discerning about how we spend it. If the sporting habit doesn’t bring other benefits or opportunities it will start to fade.

Starting a customer experience revolution

So how can we lead a customer experience revolution within our organisation and market? It starts with a strong conviction that the end customer (fan/participant) should be at the heart of decision-making, rather than being driven by internal processes or the desires of different stakeholders. Of course results need to be delivered and transformation doesn’t happen overnight. But once the needs and expectations of your target audience become your ‘north star’, new growth opportunities will quick emerge.

The key words here are ‘target audience’. This is not about blindly following the maxim that the customer is always right. Instead think of it as ‘the right customer is usually right’. You won’t be able to deliver everything they want and need, and still stay in business. But remember your customer’s perception is their reality. They will vote with their feet if the customer experience doesn’t provide the benefits they want.

Unleashing customer-led growth – a 3-stage cycle

Understand your customers

The needs, expectations, influences and behaviours of your target customers are constantly evolving. Static segmentation models, no matter how expensive, won’t keep you up to date. Successful customer-centric organisations have strong feedback loops, so they constantly hear, and learn from, the voice of the customer. Product surveys, customer emails, feedback forms, online reviews and social media posts are all vital sources of on-going understanding.

Design outside-in

Using this customer understanding, challenge and if necessary redesign the customer experiences. To do this consider the entire customer journey from your customer’s perspective. Where is the experience not delivering on your brand and their expectations? How are your systems, process and culture creating friction along the journey?

Measure their experience

Of course, you can’t change everything and that’s why on-going measurement is so important. Measurement that links back to the customer experience as well as the market impact/results you’re seeking to achieve. If you change part of the experience, how do you know if it’s made things better or worse? How quickly do you need to know this?

We’ll explore each of these themes in more detail in the next few newsletters. So if you’re not already a subscriber, click here to subscribe now.