Thursday Sep 27, 2012

What You Can Learn from the NFL Referee Lockout

American football is a lot like religion. The fans are devoted followers that take brand loyalty to a whole new level. These fans that worship their teams each week showed that they are powerful customers whose voice has an impact. Yesterday, these fans proved that their opinion could force the hand of a large and powerful institution.

With a three-month NFL referee lockout that seemed like it was nowhere close to resolution, the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks competed last Monday night. For those of you that might have been out of the news cycle the past few days, Green Bay lost the game due to a controversial call that many experts and analysts agree should have resulted in Green Bay winning the game. Outrage ensued.

The NFL had pulled replacement referees from the high school ranks, and these replacements did not have the knowledge and experience to handle high intensity NFL games. Fans protested about their customer experience. Their anger-filled rants were heard in social media, in the headlines of newspapers, on radio, and on national TV. Suddenly, the NFL was moved to reach an agreement with the referees. That agreement was reached late in the night on Wednesday with many believing that the referees had the upper hand forcing the owners into submission. Some might argue that the referees benefited, not the fans. Since the fans wanted qualified and competent referees, I would say the fans did benefit. The referees are scheduled to return to the field this Sunday, so the fans got what they wanted.

What can you learn from this negative customer experience?

  • Customers are in control. NFL owners thought they were controlling this situation with the upper hand over referees. The owners figured out they weren’t in control when their fans reacted negatively. Customers can make or break you more now than ever before, which is why it is more important to connect with them, engage them in a personal manner, and create rewarding relationships.
  • Protect your brand. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, the NFL put their brand and each team’s brand at risk with replacement referees. Think about each business decision you make, and how it may impact your brand at different points in time. A decision that results in a gain today could result in a larger loss down the road.
  • Customer experience matters. The NFL likely foresaw declining revenues in ticket sales, merchandising, advertising, and other areas if the lockout continued. While fans primarily spoke with their minds in the days following the Green Bay debacle, their wallets would be the next things to speak. Customer experience directly affects your success and is one of the few areas where you can differentiate your business.

What would you do if your brand got such negative attention? Would you be prepared to navigate such stormy waters? Would you be able to prevent such a fiasco? If you don’t have a good answer to these questions, consider joining us October 3-5, 2012 at the Oracle Customer Experience Summit in San Francisco.

You’ll have the opportunity to learn even more about customer experience from industry experts such as best-selling author Seth Godin, Paul Hagen and Kerry Bodine from Forrester Research, Inc., George Kembel from the Stanford d.School, Bruce Temkin of The Temkin Group, and Gene Alvarez from Gartner Inc.. There will also be plenty of your peers and customer experience experts available for networking and discussions.

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