As professional baseball resumes this week, we as fans can revel in the unpredictability of any given pitch, hit or fielding effort and the "it ain't over 'til it's over" nature of the sport. For baseball marketers, however, this uncertainty creates unique challenges, since the odds of predictably describing your on field "product" are about as great as hitting the Gateway Arch from home plate at Busch Stadium.
Luckily for Dan Farrell, senior VP-sales and marketing with the St. Louis Cardinals, the performance of his team -- marketing all-stars -- is easier to control. So adept is Farrell at creating a home-run experience for Cardinals fans, whether they win or lose, that he was awarded with a Customer Experience honor from The CMO Club this past fall. Here's how Farrell and his team routinely knock the customer experience out of the park.
Take 'em out to the ball game
It's no secret that despite operating within the unpredictable nature of baseball, the Cardinals boast some very winning stats. They're the second most attended home team in baseball and saw 3.5 million attendees walk through the front gates over the last two seasons. While credit is certainly due to the players on the field, Farrell and his marketing sluggers have also created a must-do experience that keeps fans rooting for the home team inside the stadium.
Says Farrell: "The Cardinals operate Busch Stadium based on the premise that attending a baseball game in our ballpark ranks as one of the premier attractions and serves as a genuine destination for millions of fans throughout the Midwest." He estimates that local fans attend eight to 10 games per season, but 1 million non-St. Louis residents also flock to the stadium each year, meaning that there are plenty of first-timers to impress with "the highest quality guest experience possible."
And what does that experience look like? For the basics: "Cleanliness, food and beverage quality and service, safe and secure atmosphere, helpful and outgoing usher staff, entertaining scoreboard and fan engagement initiatives for pre-game and between innings, efficient ease of access, etc." Above all, the employees make the Busch Stadium experience stand out from the rest of the league, says Farrell. "If we have a specialty, I believe it comes from a dedicated and very tenured staff that strive for superior customer service with a keen attention to detail."
Collect all the stats
Lest you believe that the fans' cheers are Farrell's only read on satisfaction, he and his team proactively measure the performance of the provided experience. "We conduct regular in-park surveys seeking fan feedback on a variety of topics, including guest satisfaction and ranking of our various service sectors," he says. They track data year over year to gauge consistency and also hold pre-game forums with season ticket holders and group leaders. "We invite feedback and share information with these core groups of fans who are very important stakeholders of our product."
But what about those whom the surveys don't reach? When I mention that only an estimated one out of every 10 unhappy customers ever brings an issue to customer service, Farrell tells me that not only does the guest services department monitor for complaints, but so do the on-site staff, who are often the ones catching the most fly balls from guests. "We encourage our game-day usher and support staff to submit complaints or offer suggestions for service improvements," he says.
Buy 'em some peanuts and Crackerjacks
Thanks to the Cardinals' success, Farrell and his department have been able to evolve their priorities accordingly. Now, he says, his team is focusing on promotion programs to keep enriching the customer experience. "We have increased the number of in-park promotional dates, increased the amount of money we invest in the promotional giveaway items, increased the quantity and quality of items we give away," says Farrell, "and focused our advertising to highlight the promotions." Rather than a brand-oriented campaign, the Cardinals have adopted a retail strategy to maximize both customer happiness and the bottom line.
Aim high, swing hard
For all the great work Farrell and his team have done for the Cardinals, he's still aiming for the upper stands. When I ask which other brands inspire his own thinking on the customer experience, he cites Kindle by Amazon, Bank of America and AT&T U-verse. "Surprising," he says about the latter, "but I am impressed how they can trouble shoot a technical issue in your system from a remote customer service location." As for his own challenges, Farrell says he'd like to continue to "learn how to monetize the digital and social media content that is so significant for a professional sports franchise." Keep swingin', Dan.