Marketing Professor Kenny Herbst Comments on the Importance of Creating a Fan Experience at the Ballpark

4.2.2013 Article, Faculty News

Baseball may be big draw, but customer service keeps fans coming back

Reposted from Winston-Salem Journal | by Wesley Young

Geoff Lassiter remembers the time an elderly woman dropped her Pepsi as she was leaving the concession stand to make her way to her seat at the home of the Winston-Salem Dash baseball team.

An employee picked up the cup, as expected, but then he went to the stand and got the woman another beverage. No charge.

After another game, a man discovered he had lost his car keys somewhere in BB&T Ballpark. The man thought maybe he had accidentally thrown them away in one of the trash cans, but he wasn’t sure.

“We took the time to search for the keys in the trash, although we actually found the keys in a different trash can than the one he thought,” said Lassiter, the president of the Dash. “We thought they were going to be someplace else. That gentleman today is always going to be a ticket holder because of his experience.”

Before the beginning of the minor-league team’s home opener April 12, all the employees of the Dash will be learning the fine points about providing good customer service.

They got a head start last week at “Dash University” — a two-hour session at Embassy Suites that gave employees a bird’s-eye view of the company’s operating philosophy.

Business experts say that excellent customer service is especially vital today, and especially with businesses that provide something that people don’t have to have. Like a baseball game.

“Customer service is what sets people apart,” said Pamela Bond Allison, a professor at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte. “Recently, people are realizing that it is the norm and is expected, and that if you don’t have it you can’t even compete any more. That is 100 percent discretionary income. There is no necessity to go to a ballpark. When people have choices where to spend their money, they (the Dash) are competing against movies, against staying home and saving money, or watching TV. It is not even a level playing field they are competing against.”

Lassiter and others in the Dash front office told employees they fully understand that ballpark customers have lots of choices about where and how to spend their money.
Part of what they stress is that employees have to be trained well enough to make decisions on their own when faced with a problem, be it the kid who dropped his ice cream cone, the fan who’s had one too many alcoholic drinks, or the guy who decided to upgrade his seat without the proper ticket.

“One of our key values is to empower people to make decisions,” Lassiter said. “When they get through training, we feel comfortable empowering them to deal with stressful decisions. Nobody wants to hear, ‘Well, hold on, I need to ask someone.’ You have to educate the front-line employees for them to make good decisions. We are in it together.”

At BB&T Ballpark, what team owners want to reinforce is that every employee — from the parking lot attendants to the ticket takers, food vendors and cleanup crew — is able to help customers when needed.

Lassiter said that Dash employees learn what the rules are in situations like that, but that the answer can depend on the size of the crowd or other factors.

Employees also are encouraged to take note of anything they hear fans say that might reflect on service, and pass that on to team officials. And, as Allison pointed out, Lassiter agrees that not every criticism a customer makes has to mean that the organization has to change its procedures.
Allison takes it a step further than they talked about at Dash University, though: Sometimes you have to “fire” a customer, she said.

“There comes a time when you say we can’t help you anymore,” Allison said. “Sometimes a customer has to be fired. They did not get the response they wanted, but what they were asking for is unreasonable.”

Gerald Lash — he likes to go by the nickname Swift — said that he’s worked for the Dash for four years and enjoys doing the extra things that keep fans happy. He said it takes a special kind of person to provide good customer service.

“You have to be fun and always in a good mood,” he said. “They go beyond the call of duty. I’ve given fans a baseball that was hit and I’ve given free food. When people need something done, I will do it.”
Dash officials told employees at their session that many people don’t come to the ballpark just for the baseball. They want a night of entertainment.

Kenny Herbst, a professor of marketing at Wake Forest University, calls that a part of “creating an experience for consumers.”

“Events on the field or in the stands in between half-innings, a warm and hearty greeting at the entrance to the park, or an especially helpful employee … are all examples of how the Dash, via customer attentiveness, can create an enjoyable experience for which the paying customer may be more likely to return,” he said.

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