Businesses looking for customer engagement should tap into team spirit

It’s no secret sports teams are pros when it comes to tapping into the hearts and minds of their fans and the financial rewards can be spectacular. Celebrated team Real Madrid, for example, was named richest football club in the world in 2016 with a value of $3.645 billion. While most businesses cannot afford a Cristiano Ronaldo to front their brands, they can still learn a lot about customer engagement from the relationship these teams develop with their fans and the way they become an integral part of their lives.

Battling customer disloyalty

According to Webloyalty’s latest report, The Unfaithful Consumer, loyalty is hard to come by these days. “Globalisation, the rise of online shopping, the general growth in competition, and the desire for consumers to have products that are more personalised to their needs have all contributed to an explosion of choice.” This, coupled with the fact that less than 25% of UK consumers believe retailers are very good at understanding their needs, means loyalty is at all time low.

Faced with these challenges, businesses are looking for ways to engage customers in order to gain and retain their loyalty. But trying “to force a long-lasting relationship can be off-putting,” says MyCustomer’s Ben Campbell. “The relationship is better when it comes about more naturally – when you reach out to them at a time and location they are comfortable with and share their passions and interests.” That’s why sports teams are masters of customer loyalty.

Going beyond the experience

The most successful sports teams have figured out long ago that capturing the hearts, and wallets, of their fans involves much more than just showing up on game days. A mega brand like the New York Yankees isn’t just about baseball. In fact, many of their fans have probably never set foot in Yankee Stadium, due to the cost of tickets, but they wear the team’s colours proudly.

What these businesses understand better than most is that customer engagement goes beyond customer experience. It’s not sufficient to provide a great experience at touch points, which is a moment isolated in time. The goal is to invest in a long-term relationship.

“Customers whose relationship goes beyond simply buying your products and services can be loyal and great advocates – spreading the good word about your business through word of mouth recommendations that are worth their weight in gold,” explains Campbell.

By participating in programmes such as last year’s back-to-school event when thousands of Yankee backpacks and school supply kits were distributed to New York children, the Yankees not only become a part of the community but make the lives of their target customer base easier, thus creating engagement with the brand from a young age.

Engaging customers is not solely about asking for their patronage and loyalty, it’s about giving them something back in return which makes them feel appreciated and gives them a sense the business is actually trying to make their lives better in some way. Technology has become an important aspect of that relationship.

Tapping into technology

Perhaps more than any other factor, technology has changed the way businesses interact with consumers in the last decade. While it has given customers a consequence-free way to “cheat” on their regular providers, it has also given businesses a golden opportunity to tailor their offerings to truly meet the needs of consumers.

“Whether it be a mobile push notification promoting a sale or an email confirming an order, customer engagements now take many forms. By promoting relevant and consistent communication throughout the customer experience, businesses have an opportunity to engage with their audiences like never before,” says Forbes’ Erika Maguire.

In the sports world, technology has enabled a whole new generation of fans to embrace their passion. “As fans, we didn’t need to be home or on the bleachers to enjoy the best events in the world. In the last decade, the mobile revolution came in to disrupt what we can call ‘Sports customer experience’: The internet went mobile, and so did customers,” explains Neosperience.

Sports fans today can watch their favourite team on a variety of channels and engage with their top players through social media and video. They can also download apps to follow the progress of the team and participate in exclusive events. One lesson all businesses can learn from sports teams is to go where their customers are.

This, in turn, makes customers feel like they matter. By creating new channels, sports teams have made it a little easier for their fans to follow their passion. They have facilitated the integration of their products into their customers’ daily activities and, as a consequence, they have created a bond.

That bond is evident in social media. A study conducted by Catalyst looked at how sports fans use social media. While it’s not surprising to see an increase in the use of platforms like Facebook (5.8 times higher) during games, it’s a testament to customer engagement to see that 43% of respondents were more likely to “Like” or follow a brand that supports a charity or cause sponsored by the team.

Already making the right moves

While sports teams offer great insight into customer loyalty, they are not the only ones who have found the secret to a mutually beneficial and lasting relationship with their customers. Many businesses around the world already understand that an engaging, personalised and contextualised set of products and services can create a stronger bond with consumers, one that leads to increased loyalty.

Providing added value

Telecommunication giant Vodafone, for example, launched its Red Personal Assistant service in Turkey in 2010. In addition to the regular services, members can get help with bookings and reservations, as well as access expert advice on shopping, fashion and entertainment. The travel booking service also includes lounge passes, travel insurance and VIP taxi transfers.

With an almost endless array of choices, customers today demand more of businesses vying for their loyalty. They want to feel their patronage is appreciated and products and brands that make their life better or easier. Vodafone’s Red Personal Assistant service delivers.

Making life easier

Another great example is how the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) transformed its disjointed digital experience into a customer-focused affair replete with DJs. Speaking at the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit in March, Giles Richardson, the Head of Analytics at RBS, described the bank’s digital experience as “terrible” and in great need of a refocus.

By repositioning digital specialists into Superstar DJs, or journey managers, and giving them access to the data they needed, RBS was able to provide its customers with an end-to-end seamless experience. “Customers come to do stuff generally – it might be to open a new savings account, get a credit card or adopting mobile app, and all of these are a series of small journeys,” Richardson explained to CMO online. “We divided our digital team into journey managers, and they will look after an entire journey.”

But that’s not all. RBS also created an online hub where customers can access all their benefits behind a single sign-on point and greatly improves the customer experience, as they are now able to access their banking services as well as a travel and events concierge, mobile phone insurance and vehicle breakdown cover from a single point of entry.

These two examples show that businesses, and sports teams alike, succeed by providing solutions to their customers that go beyond simply fulfilling a need. According to The Unfaithful Consumer report, UK consumers are pressed for time and still feel the sting of the last economic downturn, a situation that is echoed throughout the world. As a consequence, consumers look for added value before parting with their hard-earned money.

“While it may be easy to view customer engagement as another marketing campaign, it is important for businesses to recognize the growing power of the customer, and to rethink their strategies to fully meet and even exceed customer expectations,” warns Maguire.

What can businesses learn from sports teams? They can learn that in the end, it’s all about the fan. “The lifeblood of any great team is loyalty and devotion. Sport is probably the area where loyalty plays the greater role in determining the success of a company,” explains Dario Melpignano, CEO of Neosperience.

Sports fans are the ultimate consumers. They are ready to handsomely reward any business that can earn their devotion and that devotion is infectious. Sports fans were social media long before it was invented. “Social cohesion was built into language long before Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter – we’re tribal by nature. Tribes today aren’t the same as tribes thousand of years ago: It isn’t just religious tribes or ethnic tribes now: It’s sports fans, it’s communities, it’s geography,” concludes Peter Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment.