This is Edgbaston. To those of you who are not aware, Edgbaston is the home of Warwickshire County Cricket Club in Birmingham, central England. Edgbaston is also an international cricket ground, and regularly hosts England matches against other cricketing nations.
Now this blog is not about specifically about the game of cricket – I would never do that to you! You do not need to know anything about cricket to read on. However, it is the game of cricket, and a game that did not happen today, that has inspired me to write this particular blog.
When talking about the subject of ‘customer experience’ we often talk about our experiences of interacting with organisations in the retail sector, or airlines, or dare I say it b..ks! But the customer experience spans our interactions with any organisation, whether it is a public authority, an educational establishment (especially in the advent of student fees) or even a sporting event.
Today, the 4th July, my father-in-law and I were excited at the prospect of attending a sporting event – a one day cricket international between England and Australia at Edgbaston. What we experienced was in my opinion, nothing short of a shambles – and as a customer experience – extremely poor.
Now this is not intended to be a rant – even though it may seem to be. It is intended to bring a very important concept to the attention of any administrative body responsible for the welfare of their paying customer. That concept is the ‘END TO END CUSTOMER JOURNEY’.
In our case, and that of the majority of the thousands of paying customers/spectators/crowd members at Edgbaston today, the CUSTOMER JOURNEY started months ago. The journey started when we decided to buy tickets for the game. That stage worked well – no hiccups.
The second stage of our journey was all to do with logistics – the planning of travel and accommodation to get to the game. Like many England fans, we travelled a long way for the game. We had to book a hotel, arrange transport, and incur costs that we were unlikely to ever recoup, whatever the circumstances. Again, this stage of our journey worked well, the hotel was successfully booked, our travel arrangements were agreed – we were good to go.
The third stage is where things start to go awry. The third stage is the day of the game itself. We all know that the great British weather is infamously unreliable. Today was no exception. In fact for the last two weeks, this part of the country has been quite literally drenched. It was so bad last week, the playing surface at Edgbaston was apparently completely underwater! Cricket is very much like tennis – you cannot play the game if it is raining – or if the playing surface is too wet – slightly concerning. Well it should have been slightly concerning for the cricketing authorities. They surely would not let thousands of paying customers/spectators/crowd members travel to Birmingham for a game that might not be playable? They would surely take into account the costs and effort these thousands of LOYAL followers of the game would have to expend and not recoup if they travelled to a game that did not go ahead? And surely if the weather forecast was due to be poor on the day, that would confirm what the right decision should be?
Well I do not blame anyone for the complete inadequacy of our British weather. That would be very unfair. I do not blame the staff at Edgbaston who did a great impression of the ‘hokey cokey’ taking the covers on and off the pitch continuously for over five hours (whilst we were there). But what I do believe is that the cricketing authorities paid very little, if any thought, to the plight of the poor paying customer with the decisions they made today. They made no effort to consider this critical stage of the customer experience.
The game was due to commence at 2pm. However, heavy overnight rain, followed by more rain in the morning, added to the deluge the week before, meant that quite frankly, the pitch was not playable. Now the decision as to whether or not to play is that of the impartial, international umpires. If the customer journey was being considered, these men could have inspected the pitch yesterday and deemed the pitch unplayable. Unfortunately, the umpires only arrived last night. They could not inspect the pitch until this morning – too late – the poor customer was already heavily through stage 2 of the customer journey.
When they did inspect the pitch, they identified that one end of the ground, notoriously susceptible to rain, was too dangerous to be considered playable. We ‘the paying customer’ were not told this until 5pm. We ‘the paying customer’ were led through a series of ‘pitch inspections’ every hour. We ‘the paying customer’ were told each time that another inspection would happen an hour later. The communication was woeful. The frustration was significant. In between the inspections, and the ground staff hokey cokey, we were treated to tannoy music, and quite possibly the dullest ‘film’ on the ‘big screen’ – how to make a cricket pitch – honestly!!. Quite frankly, the experience was simply shocking.
I was starting to find out more on Twitter, than we were being told in the ground. At this point, my cynicism started to grow. Whilst we were being essentially told to ‘hang on’, the thousands of ‘paying customers’ in the ground were doing just that – paying – for food, drink, merchandise etc. The longer we were kept in the ground, the more money was going through the tills. Was the game ever likely to go ahead? Derek Pringle, former England cricketer sums up the situation perfectly in the Daily Telegraph:
“Heavy rain at Edgbaston last week and more over the past few days meant that play was always likely to be a notional concept on Wednesday. Indeed, after a hiatus in the weather, a 28 overs a side game was scheduled to start at 6pm, though further rain forced the umpires to call everything off at 6.20pm. Warwickshire, who lost money last month when the third Test against the West Indies was blighted by the weather, will have to refund ticket money to the 21,000 crowd, though they will have been insured for that. In the Test they mostly lost out on their food and bar outlets but this time they appeared to do a thriving business until the match was abandoned. Edgbaston has been desperately unlucky since their £40 million refurbishment last year. With no Test match until 2015, they needed to maximise their profit from the opportunities they do have, which has not happened this season.”
One ‘silver lining’ to this story is that the paying customer can now get their money back for ‘the face value of their ticket’. To do so, you have to send your ticket (at your cost) back to the ECB clearing office. If you do not, you will not get your money back!
Whatever the reasons really were for keeping ‘the paying customer’ in the ground, or even allowing them there in the first place, what is clear is that the administrators of this particular organisation have not considered the full ‘end to end journey’ of their customer base. They have not considered that they have not just suffered the disappointment of not seeing the game they love, but have also lost money into the bargain. They have sat through hours of boredom, believing the game may start, when it looks as though it never would have done.
In a world where the consumer is losing TRUST in so many industries; where the consumer is continually being TAKEN FOR GRANTED; it would be fantastic to be able to rely on the wonderful world of sport to keep us smiling. For us today, the consumer is seen as an afterthought.
What the administrators of the sports world need to remember is that their sports rely on the paying customer; the fans; the crowds; to exist as they do. Without the crowds, there is no sport. Without the customer, there is no business. Think about us as customers. Think about our full end to end journey. Have a genuine customer experience strategy to engage with us throughout, transparently and honestly.
Will I be coming to Edgbaston again – absolutely not. Will I still support England – always.
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