The Business of Sport: Are Our Venues Letting Us Down?

Sport is big business, and sponsorship has never been more popular. I recently read that a whopping 65 percent of the €26bn market for European sponsorship is accounted for by sports. Companies jump at the chance to drive brand awareness and market share through association with clubs or events. But are sponsors really getting bang for their buck?

To me, the live event is one of the most underestimated areas of sports sponsorship. It’s uncanny that as consumers, we are ultra-connected, inherently well-informed, and hold the power to alter brands reputations, yet we don’t wince at the third-rate customer experience we typically get when we enter a stadium. In Europe especially, many of our venues are communication black holes. We’ve come to expect bad WiFi and limited mobile signal–along with the warm beer and long queue for the toilets at half time.

While poor connectivity is a symptom of the sturdy design of the stadiums themselves (and of networks unprepared to handle high concentrations of mobile devices and bandwidth-hungry apps), the under-servicing of loyal customers is purely a missed opportunity for venues, clubs and sponsors.

How long before sports fans call time on the status quo?

Nowadays, we not only expect a once-in-a-lifetime adventure match-side, we want to be able to capture and share our experiences with the communities we’re part of. Today, most of that is done digitally on mobile. Cast your mind back to Wimbledon 2013 when ‘Murray Mania’ sent the world into a social frenzy and 1.1 million people tweeted 2.6 million times, using tennis-related hashtags. Nearly 80 percent of those tweets came from mobiles.

Mobility gives consumers power to act in the moment. And when you give this power to an emotionally-charged captive audience–such as a stadium full of sports fans–magic happens. That’s when we start to see collective sharing through Twitter and Facebook, rapidly evolving social trends and hashtags, and viral brand awareness that is hard to engineer.

It’s no surprise then that sponsors are looking for more than just putting their names to stadiums or their logo on the team’s shirts. To make a large sponsorship investment worthwhile, brands want to monetize a massive captive audience. They want to influence fans through powerful digital channels, and build an emotional engagement on both a personal and viral level. Venues are recognizing that this level of fan engagement pays dividends for them too, through additional purchase and direct digital marketing.

Technologies like contactless payments and stadium apps to help you find a parking spot or access player information on the last goal scorer have incredible potential to boost engagement for fans and advertisers, especially as younger fans demand greater digital interaction with their team, their surroundings and their friends. But without the supporting communications infrastructure, these connected technologies are as good as redundant–and our venues will be too.

Encouragingly, the level of connectivity in stadiums across the UK and Europe is expected to grow over the next two years with a number of venues already leading the way.

In the run up to this year’s Investec Ashes series, Glamorgan County Cricket Club’s SWALEC Stadium in Wales is the latest ground to respond to this shift, by fitting a brand new communications network to support next-generation media coverage of the first Test match.

Accompanying 120 journalists from around the world will be a myriad of bandwidth-hungry devices, many of which will be used for live video streaming and second screening, as well as social media reporting. Looking to the future, the club’s ultimate goal is to deliver a 21st-century fan experience by becoming the world’s most technically advanced cricket stadium. It will use technology to reinvent the spectator experience in cricket through custom apps, e-commerce, marketing initiatives and promotions, and to boost the value proposition for sponsors.

So we see that sport is already becoming a fully-connected world and venues have an opportunity to become industry leaders with the right technologies in place. With the sports sponsorship market in the UK forecast to grow by almost 15 percent between now and 2018, let’s hope our venues don’t let the side down.

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Avaya Oceana: Riding the Next Wave in Customer Experience

Earlier this month, the CFI Group, which issues the annual American Customer Satisfaction Index, issued the Contact Center Satisfaction Index (CCSI). Here are some of the key findings:

  • The index shows a four-point decrease in customer satisfaction from 2015 to 2016, sliding to the lowest score in the nine-year history of the report.
  • Difficulties are driven by the ability (or lack of) to quickly and effectively solve customer issues: Only 52% of contacts were resolved on the first contact and a third could not successfully self-serve through the IVR system.
  • Millennials have higher expectations for service than those 45+ perhaps largely due to their sense of immediacy and highly digital, multi-modal nature.

Bottom line: The CCSI news isn’t good regarding contact centers’ ability to deliver an excellent experience. And that results in reduced revenues for your business as customers go elsewhere to satisfy their needs.

From our point of view … the timing couldn’t be better. Here’s why: Avaya Oceana just went generally available.

As long-time leaders in customer experience technologies, we know there are two critical points of opposition underlying the findings of the recent CCSI report. One is that consumer technologies and customer expectations change at an ever-increasing pace—even more so for millennials—your next generation of disposable income. This change is so rapid that some business technologies can be nearly obsolete before fully implemented. Second, because of this rapid pace of change, enterprises often hesitate to commit to new technologies that may disrupt a precariously-built, but functional operation—many of which resemble a Jenga stack whereby if one piece is touched the whole shebang comes tumbling down.

There’s a third factor that’s worth mentioning: traditional contact center technologies have been rigid, highly complex solutions, making changes to deployed systems difficult at best. Over time, what may be left as a result are ancient artifacts of routing patterns, complex integrations, and more that—at minimum—slow responses to potentially already frustrated customers.

Avaya Oceana to the rescue! Oceana simplifies that with a flexible, software-based solution that can negate those opposing forces. Suddenly, aligning customer needs and business strategies is as easy as drag and drop, so changes can be made without the traditional hold-your-breath-and-see-what-happens approach that causes migraines and drives significant resource requirements. The easy-to-use, self-adjusting system knows how—and in many cases, why—the customer is reaching out, managing proactive, self service and assisted service as a single thread.

Intelligence gleaned via Oceanalytics can be automatically applied and visually reported to those who need to know, who can also make immediate changes in the workflow pattern without esoteric programming requirements.

What’s more? Since Avaya Oceana is built on Avaya Breeze™ Platform, companies have massive flexibility to quickly customize their approach to customer experience—again with simplicity and ease through the development tools or pre-made Snap-ins from the Avaya Snapp Store.

The end game? To deliver the best experience possible every time in the course of a transaction or in the relationship overall.

While much of the magic of Oceana is behind the scenes, essentially, the solution enables companies to fully realize the omnichannel experience that many talk about and few truly deliver.

Experience is everything—Avaya Oceana enables proactive, persistent, contextual highly personalized experiences. The kind of experience even a millennial could love.

Watch the Avaya Oceana video.

Finally… A Contact Center for the Digital Era

Imagine interacting with a company—any company—via your preferred method whenever you want, whether making a phone call, using online chat, sending an SMS, or messaging via Facebook. And, you end up having exactly the experience you were expecting. No not another bad experience. Rather an exceptionally pleasant and good experience, that surprisingly takes less time than you originally anticipated. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it?

The reality is that traditional business communications have failed to keep pace with consumer-focused technological devices. As a result, customers’ expectations—while very high—are rarely met when interacting with a business. Customers know what a good technology experience looks like, sounds like. The simplicity, built-in intelligence and sophistication of today’s devices and apps have taught customers that it’s not difficult to have a simple and tailored experience. It’s not difficult to teach a computer to know who you are, what you prefer, what you like to listen to, watch, read, how you like to interact. If it’s not difficult, then why are customer experiences with companies so predictably bad?

It’s time to break the mold. It’s time to start a new customer experience wave that makes customers happy about doing business with a company, excited that a company values their time and loyalty. Let’s give companies the freedom to be innovative, proactive, independent and capable of operating in real time to meet the demands and needs of their customers and agents without fail.

Unlike their traditional predecessors, today’s technological systems and capabilities have finally caught up with digital customer expectations. We have arrived at a point in time where the digital brain of a machine and the reasoning mind of a human are aligned closer than ever. Look at IBM Watson, Amazon Alexa.

Now, all that’s needed is similar thinking and innovation applied to business communications. What’s needed is the re-invention of the contact center for the digital era.

Enter Avaya Oceana™

Oceana is a departure from traditional business communications, just as the smart device was a departure from the basic, voice-only flip phone. This is a contact center for the digital era. Companies today don’t want to risk losing customers as a result of a bad experience. They can’t afford it. Companies want a single solution with best-in-class flexibility that gives them the ability to:

  • Drive adoption of self-service channels by seamlessly linking these into the contact center to deliver an omnichannel multi-touch experience.
  • Make agents more efficient and more effective by enabling them to handle multiple parallel interactions using an integrated multi-media desktop.
  • Reduce call times through utilizing contextual knowledge of prior and in-progress interactions to streamline customer interactions.
  • Drive higher customer satisfaction / NPS by tailoring the engagement experience to address their business’s unique/specific customer needs.
  • Rapidly optimize and continuously improve how they engage with their customers by leveraging their system’s flexibility, openness and integration capabilities.

In turn, customers get the experiences they know modern-day technology is capable of providing. The sophisticated yet simple and intelligent experiences they have grown accustomed to having with their smart devices, tablets, laptops, digital televisions and other smart appliances. This is Oceana.

Avaya Is the Innovative Leader for the Digital Era

When we made the decision and accepted the challenge to lead the industry in re-inventing the contact center, we did not enter into this without careful thought and consideration … of everything. Leaving no stone unturned, we diligently looked at what our customers and our competitors’ customers are working with today. We uncovered more cobbled together, Frankenstein-esque systems than I ever thought existed. The complexity of processes and user experiences that companies unintentionally created by not keeping up with technology upgrades was amazing. Holding on to these older technologies today when all of these digital capabilities are available is similar to keeping a shelf full of CDs for your music. Eventually you realize that making the choice to go digital can transform your world for the better.

What we also learned was that if we were going to re-invent the contact center for the digital era, we had to think differently because digital technology and digital customers require different thinking. We challenged each other daily to think differently. That’s been the biggest challenge all along for companies struggling through digital transformations. But as Avaya learned with our own transformation, once you make the hard decisions, start thinking differently and get to the other side of the transformation, a whole new world of opportunity becomes available to you.

As Oscar Goldman used to say during a time when human-to-machine technology was something only Hollywood could dream up, “Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology.” The truth is we finally do have the technology. We can rebuild the contact center. This is no longer a futuristic endeavor, this is now. In fact, let me rephrase that: we have rebuilt the contact center.

This is Oceana. This is the contact center for the digital era. This is the start of something new, the start of something big.

3 Predictions about The Future of Customer Experience

Sometimes I know what the fictional Rip Van Winkle must have felt like when he woke up from his 20-year slumber. It seems like only yesterday that we in the communications world were marveling at the benefits of integrating voice and data. Now it’s all about the multi-touch customer experience and mobile everything. The speed at which communications in general—and customer engagement specifically—are advancing is nothing short of astonishing.

This prompted some thinking around what the next few years might bring. So we gathered insights from a variety of Avaya customers, visionaries within our own organization, and industry analysts to piece together a picture of what the future of customer experience will be in, for example, 2025. A few key themes emerged:

The nature of service will change. In the future, we won’t be talking about a device or media type. It will be all about what smarter consumers expect as outcomes—it starts with WHAT they want to do, followed by HOW they want to take action. It’s all about a customer being able to initiate contact in any number of ways and seamlessly move from one action to the next, in pursuit of resolution, knowing that a business will instantly know who they are, what they purchased (or anticipate what they want to purchase), what previous interactions they’ve had, what the outcomes of those interactions were, and then respond or, better yet, proactively address their needs. Everything is integrated at the point of interaction for the particular desired outcome at that moment.

And, it’s not just smarter consumers. Because the customer of tomorrow has done their own research, attempted to fix their own issues, etc. they require smarter, better equipped and, frankly, happier customer service agents and experts. To meet customers’ increasing expectations for fast, effortless and personal service, employees need to be empowered, be more knowledgeable, have the right tools, and—this is a bit subtler—better motivation. Increasingly, employees expect better work-life balance, more flexible scheduling, the latitude to work from home and the freedom to use their own devices. All of this—on both the consumer and agent side of the equation—means having seamless, adaptable, integrated, and responsive contact center infrastructure and applications. Organizations will be required to have an even smarter enterprise.

Extreme analytics will power customer experience. What is Extreme Analytics? It is analytics driven by context, supported by workflow automation, working with machine learning, and feeding artificial intelligence, just as a start. These are what will be needed to drive highly customized personal experiences. Natural language processing with analytics running in the background will make consumers feel that they are receiving a unique personalized experience, even though they may talk voice-to-voice or face-to-face with anyone from the company. No matter what means—digital or otherwise—the customer uses to initiate contact, the technology will be in place to translate, interpret, understand behaviors, anticipates needs, even if it’s a first contact between the customer and the business. If a customer chooses to visit a store or other location in person, there are still means by which—using GPS, geo-targeting, Internet of Things and other technologies—a highly personalized experience can be sculpted in real time. It will no longer be a digital interface alone. It will be about enabling interaction and personalization no matter where a customer wants to conduct business.

Loyalty is dead. As the post-digital world unfolds, the only loyalty customers will have is to whoever can make it easiest for them to do what they need to do. It will no longer be cognizant or mindful loyalty. Instead—whether it’s retail, banking, cab service, travel, prescription drugs, whatever—tomorrow’s consumers will certainly derive some level of comfort from knowing they’ve interacted with a business before, but that won’t be enough to keep them coming back. The next company that comes along and makes it faster, easier and (maybe, but maybe not) cheaper will get their business.

Here, extreme analytics come into play again. Driving in-the-moment loyalty will require customer segmentation that goes far beyond age groups and other demographics and customer profiles. It will include behavior analysis and an up-to-the-minute understanding of what a customer is doing (or anticipating next) so their experience can be personalized. It doesn’t matter that I fit into a certain age bracket or that I am a platinum customer of this financial institution or of that hotel chain. I have different “care abouts,” and a company needs to know those about me so they can create “anticipatory engagement.” The company anticipates what a customer will need, perhaps even from adjacent industry analysis, which drives knowledge of next best action, and drives proactive outreach—product and service offers that meet an expectation that is only now materializing.

Are these themes the things dreams are made of? Absolutely not. Consumer expectations are already headed in the direction suggested above, as are the technologies that are beginning to enable those capabilities. It’s only a matter of time, the future is now.

Curious to hear more about how we envision the Future of Customer Experience? How are customer expectations changing in your business? I’d love to hear from you.