Last updated: Six things soccer taught me about customer experience

Six things soccer taught me about customer experience


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I confess I’m passionate about the world’s most popular sport (although you can see me in front of the television watching American football, basketball, baseball, volleyball, swimming, curling, and whatever else pops up). Ever since my father took me to a soccer stadium for the first time decades ago, soccer has taught me lessons; some positive, some negative.

As with most people who love sports, that passion has carried over into the other parts of my life, especially the professional aspect. I have been thinking and talking a lot about customer experience, and I’ve found that the way many companies behave with regard to customer and brand interactions can be compared to certain soccer players.

(This post will likely be controversial to many. I’d like to state for the record, I regret nothing written here, and stand by my assessments.)

Six things soccer taught me about CX

Let’s start with the worst:

The Cantona brand: It was 1995, and the French player Éric Cantona was already extremely controversial by his declarations and attitudes on and off the field, although, I must admit, he was a good attacker. That year, as a Manchester United player, he made perhaps the most famous move of his career – and it was not exactly on the field. During a match against Crystal Palace, on January 25, Cantona was expelled. As he crossed the stands towards the locker room, he was cursed by a supporter of the opposing team. His reaction was historic: he jumped the fence, applying a kind of kung-fu-style flying kick, followed by several punches to the fan. He was fined £ 30,000, suspended for eight months, and sentenced to 120 hours of community service.

Some brands are still adopting, despite all the wonderful developments of customer experience, a Cantona-style reaction.

Social networks are full of people who criticize. Called “haters” or “trolls”, many attribute their emergence to advent of the virtual world. As a result, certain companies feel comfortable reacting with a flying kick to any criticism received. But the truth is that the negative feeling always existed, but there was no easy way for it to be expressed.

If a brand can maintain a positive attitude towards criticism and react to improve its products, services, and customer interactions, it can “end the season” stronger and more prepared for the future.

The Cristiano Ronaldo brand: Cristiano Ronaldo is not only known as a great soccer player, always disputing with Messi the votes of who is the best of the present; he is also known for his habit of looking to the big screens at the stadiums to check his “visual” – his carefully groomed hairstyle, with a giggle of satisfaction. A big talent with a great touch of vanity, not the first time this has happened.

Many brands end up being too vainglorious, anchored in a past of talent and leadership, while forgetting about continually improving their CX. In fact, there are several organizations that hide behind Steve Jobs’ old maxim –  “a lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them” –  as an excuse to adopt a self-centered attitude that does not work the most of the time. Remember: even Apple has released Newton, Pippin, and that soap-shaped mouse device.

The Bebeto brand: World champion for Brazil in 1994, the midfielder was also a great traveler: during his career, he played in 11 different clubs, in five countries. Bebeto was famous for making impossible-looking goals and a peculiar characteristic: almost every time he was presented in a new team, he would tell the press that he was touched, and how it was a great dream of his life to play for that club – apparently, he dreamed a lot!

How does this relate to many brands? Lack of sincerity, lack of authenticity! That’s one of the easiest things to spot. When a brand is NOT authentic about its products and services, always trying to achieve a too-perfect image, consumers can tell. They will not be attracted to a brand that lacks sincerity. It is always better to be transparent and authentic: we are all human, after all, on one side or the other of the counter.

The Palermo brand: It happened on July 4, 1999, during an important match of the America Cup between the selections of Argentina and Ecuador. In the first half of the match, the referee scored a penalty in favor of Argentina. The great Argentine striker Martín Palermo was in charge of the kick, but missed, hitting the ball on the crossbar. In the second half, a new penalty was called against Argentina. Despite his first mistake, Palermo decided to try again. Again, he kicked the ball away. Argentina saw a third penalty was called. A lot of people asked Palermo to give his place to another player, but he stubbornly wanted to hit. The Ecuadorian goalkeeper defended. That famous night, Palermo lost three penalties, and Ecuador won the match 3-0.

In 2017, 53% of 20,000 consumers worldwide noted that if a brand made a mistake more than twice (aka Palermo-style), it’s reason enough to break the relationship with the brand. That is, be authentic, but learn from your mistakes, and correct the course. Persisting in the error, as the saying goes, is diabolical.

The Maldini brand: Paolo Maldini demonstrates a great lesson. One of the best defensive players ever, Maldini defended the same club, Milan from Italy, throughout his professional life from 1984 to 2009. In an era when most players regularly change clubs, Maldini created a relationship with the club and with the fans that made him even more special. In an interview with the UK’s Daily Mail in 2015, he said: “Milan is not just a team for me. It is part of my life. My family loves those colours… I’d just love to give back something, to give them my experience.”

Maldini and Milan have created what brands and their customers need to have: engagement, a long-term relationship, love. Losing a customer is easy; retaining it for a lifetime is a constant customer experience job.

The Beckenbauer brand: There is a bit of confusion about what it means to be “bold.” Many imagine a bold player as a dribbler, always ready to attack; almost a juggler. However, the dictionary defines boldness as “willingness to take risks and act innovatively; with confidence or courage”.

You may have heard of Franz Beckenbauer, one of the greatest players in the history of Germany, and the world. In the semi-final of the 1970 World Cup against Italy, Beckenbauer shifted his collarbone, but continued to play until the end – and the match went for overtime – with the right shoulder immobilized by plasters, a classic image. Beckenbauer was bold, and faced the risk of permanently worsening his injury because he did not want to leave his team with one less player in such an important match. Until that moment, Franz Beckenbauer was a great player; after that mythical performance, he became a hero.

Brands need to be bold. There are many competitors in the market, several of them willing to challenge leaders with new models of digital transformation. What about your brand? How will you face it? How will you differentiate? Just being one more brand on the market will get you nowhere. You have to be bold and courageous, willing to try new models of customer engagement. A moment of boldness can mean the difference between being the protagonist or just a disposable co-star.

And what about you? What have you learned from your favorite sport? How is your brand facing the challenges of the digital economy? There are millions of consumers out there waiting for your answers.

Every digital moment matters.
Are you making the most of them?

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