Does Your Company Play in a Packed Stadium?

Prof. Steven van Belleghem highlights the importance of direct and rapid customer feedback, drawing parallels between CX and the world of football.

Football stadium at night. An imaginary stadium is modelled and rendered.
CRMVoice of the CustomerInsights

Published: November 10, 2023

Steven Van Bellegham

Steven Van Belleghem

I am a big football fan, and during the lockdown period of the pandemic, I really missed it. So when my favourite team, Club Brugge, started playing televised matches again, I sat at home on our sofa and watched every single one.

I watched the players do their best in chilly, empty stadiums, but the energy was different to what I was accustomed to, and I found it terrible to watch. So what was the difference?

Supporters are not meant to hear what the players say and shout at each other. As fans, we would all have preferred to have heard the supporters singing, but those conditions must have been terrible for the players as well.

The life of a football player can be likened to someone who works in a world of ‘real-time direct customer feedback’. If they are playing well, there is lots of applause. If they commit a foul, they are blanketed in boos. If they score, an explosion of positive emotion is sent in their direction.

Can you imagine what it would be like if you wore an earphone at work that gave you instant, real-time, direct customer feedback on your every decision and action?

Direct and rapid customer feedback tends to increase customer-centricity. I’m sure readers here will probably know this, but one of the major problems with customer feedback is that too many companies make decisions in empty stadiums. When an important decision is required, excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint files are churned out. The calculations and data these contain are used to form hypotheses and opinions. This ceremony ultimately leads to a decision.

Please don’t misinterpret this – I am certainly not data-phobic, nor do I oppose financial analysis. These things are crucial for making the right decisions in a boardroom. However, my point is that if you only use data and financial analysis, you dehumanise your customers; they are reduced to a number.

The human component must be included in your decision-making process to achieve effective empathy. The more people in your company that are directly exposed to and confronted with the customer’s signs of dismay and delight, the more likely effective empathy will be.

‘Hearsay’ is not the same as the real thing

If I may extend this football analogy, in October 2021, I was in the stands to see Club Brugge take on Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League. It was a historic moment – not just for my club, but for the football world because it was the first European match with Lionel Messi playing for PSG, having just left FC Barcelona.

The world’s sporting press descended on Bruges. Everyone assumed that the star-studded team of Paris would wipe the floor with Club Brugge – and when PSG quickly took a 0-1 lead, everyone thought it was the beginning of the end.

How wrong we were. Against all odds, Bruges scored an equaliser, and after heroic attempts from both teams, the match ended at 1-1. A draw was seen as a huge victory in Bruges. Our underdogs had stood up to one of the richest teams on the planet, the fans were over the moon, and the atmosphere in the stadium and throughout the town was truly exuberant.

When I got home, my wife, Evi, was watching TV. She asked, “How was it?” Still glowing from the match and being part of the atmosphere, I replied enthusiastically, “It was super! We got a draw against Messi and his millionaire friends.” Her response was simply, “I’m happy for you,” before she just zapped to a different channel.

We only feel the true impact of an event when we experience it personally.

The point here is that we only feel the true impact of an event when we experience it personally. A description of an emotional response is simply that – the feelings are diminished.

This is true for customer feedback. If you hear positive or negative feedback directly from the source, it carries more impact than if you read about it through a market research report or hear about it through a colleague’s story.

The “Polished Diamonds” of customer experience have various ways of sharing customer feedback with as many employees as possible. Their matches are all played in packed stadiums.

Prof. Steven van Belleghem is a world-leading expert in customer experience and best-selling author. His new book, A Diamond in the Rough, is out now.

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