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What You Can Learn from the NFL Referee Lockout

Guest Author

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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