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Understanding the customer experience and relationship

This is an excerpt from Sport Public Relations 3rd Edition With Web Resource by G. Clayton Stoldt,Stephen W. Dittmore,Mike Ross & Scott E. Branvold.

Customer Experience

PR can play an impor­tant role in building and sustaining relationships, but this first requires a thorough understanding of the customer or member experience. Figure 10.1 describes many of the pos­si­ble areas of interaction between a consumer and an organ­ization and can provide insight into some of the ­factors that likely contribute to satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Tincher (2014) reports that organ­izations must consider differences in the customer experience (CX) based on the person, the stage of the journey, and the unique perspective the customer brings to the experience. Tincher also suggests that the customer journey includes two critical moments: friction points and moments of truth. Friction points are steps in the journey that cause frustration or dissatisfaction. Moments of truth are ­those instants where the consumer decides to persist or abandon the journey. Attempts to map the customer journey often begin with identifying the physical and digital touchpoints (individual points of interaction) during vari­ous stages of the consumer experience, from awareness to consideration to acquisition to ser­vice. Tincher and Newton (2019) report that the three most impor­tant ele­ments to successful customer journey mapping are

  • broad cross-­functional involvement (involving more than just the marketing department),
  • involvement of customers in the pro­cess (seeing the journey through the eyes of the customer), and
  • selecting the right journey map (recognizing the significance of vari­ous components of the journey, e.g., investigative phase).

Figure 10.1 The phases of the customer experience contain many opportunities for PR activity.
Figure 10.1 The phases of the customer experience contain many opportunities for PR activity.

More sophisticated journey maps ­will include efforts to identify questions consumers may have and emotions they may be experiencing during dif­fer­ent stages of the journey (e.g., is a customer pleased with the available seating options, or frustrated with the inability to use a par­tic­u­lar credit card?).

Creating a journey map may help identify some overlooked points of interaction. Connections can occur in a variety of ways, from advertising exposure to billing inquiries, and involve both direct and indirect contact. Some contacts may even involve interactions over which the organ­ization has no control, such as review sites (unmanaged touchpoints). All ­these interactions contribute to the customer’s perceptions about the organ­ization. For example, the consumer may interact with a minor league baseball organ­ization on the phone, at the ticket win­dow, at the concession stand, through vari­ous fa­cil­i­ty ser­vices and amenities, and on the team website. The organ­ization must then determine ­whether par­tic­u­lar attributes of the CX are more crucial to each interaction. For instance, the concession interaction may be judged on criteria such as price, quality of food, breadth of menu, speed of ser­vice, and courtesy of ser­vice. Establishing the priority of ­these attributes for a consumer ­will provide insight into what is most influential to the customer’s satisfaction. If consumers are simply asked to evaluate their satisfaction with the concession experience, the results may not reveal which attributes have the most influence on concession-­buying be­hav­ior. Dissatisfaction with price may not alter buying be­hav­ior (since options are ­limited), whereas serving a hot dog that tastes like an old army boot may change consumption patterns a ­great deal. Rawson, Duncan, and Jones (2013) suggest that more touchpoints create additional complexity in managing the customer experience. Often customers ­will be dissatisfied with the cumulative experience rather than one par­tic­u­lar component of the experience. Journey mapping that attempts to incorporate customer feelings and emotions ­will help clarify the nature of the customer experience with greater context.

Identifying where PR best fits into impacting the customer journey starts with looking at ­those phases of the customer experience where PR can contribute most to the building or sustaining of relationships. Direct contact PR activities can be a mechanism for both attracting consumers and nurturing relationships ­after purchase. Activities such as professional baseball teams’ use of winter caravans to keep in touch with fans are primarily designed to build relationships rather than sell tickets. As an example, the Minnesota Twins’ winter caravan is one of the most extensive in professional sports. The 2019 caravan traveled to 40 communities up to 500 miles (800 km) from Minneapolis–­St. Paul to visit ­people who are hardly major ticket purchasers. Teams of current and former players visit schools, hospitals, businesses, and ser­vice groups with a traditional “hot-­stove” program each eve­ning (mlb​.­com​/­twins​/­community​/­winter​-­caravan). In many cases ­these efforts are directed ­toward smaller markets composed primarily of media consumers, and the marketing value may be tied to potentially higher media rights fees or additional value to sponsorship deals. Open ­houses, draft parties, preseason “fanfests,” and ­grand openings can all be used to nurture relationships with consumers. While some direct marketing activity may occur during ­these events, it is often secondary to the chance to simply connect with clientele. Such occasions provide a chance to listen and engage in dialogue, an activity that is frequently overlooked when only transactional relationships exist. In addition, impor­tant information can be collected and prospects can be identified that can lead to more traditional marketing activity.

Another prepurchase PR role involves the efforts to craft image and tell compelling stories that resonate with the consumer. While advertising typically involves short targeted messages, storytelling deals with broader impressions about the organ­ization and can be delivered through a variety of media. Helping consumers relate to ­people (e.g., athletes) or orga­nizational contributions to the community (e.g., ser­vice activities) can create favorable and memorable feelings and may be received more readily than advertising.

The postpurchase phase also provides ample opportunity for PR to contribute to sustaining customer relationships. Complaint ­handling, follow-up communication, and satisfaction assessment (discussed ­later) are all PR-­oriented activities that can be critical in fostering lasting customer relationships.