Teaming Up To Tackle Phone Headaches

Glenn Jackson, Managing Director at Moneypenny, explains how football clubs can benefit from telephone answering support…

Bill Shankly famously once said “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Well for football clubs, answering their phones may not be a matter of life and death, but it could be the difference between winning the final of the customer service and operational efficiency cup or being knocked out in the group stages. (Not a very catchy competition title, but you get the point).

Football is big business and whether you are a Premier League side or a non-league sleeping giant, managing your telephone calls well is extremely important.

From keeping fans and stakeholders happy to maximising revenue and making sure that the club is as efficient and cost-effective as possible, there is a long list of reasons why more and more football clubs are choosing to use an outsource provider to manage their phone lines.

Moneypenny bird logo cmyk

This is definitely a trend that we’re seeing at Moneypenny. We work with football clubs of all sizes to ensure that they not only capture every single incoming call, but also deliver the very best service into the bargain.

Moneypenny is the UK’s market leader in telephone answering with a base in the UK and New Zealand. In total we have almost 400 staff who handle around nine million calls a year for over 7,000 businesses, including start-ups right through to international corporations.

So how does the service work? There are three main options – real people taking calls, clever technology or a bespoke combination of the two.

For example, where football clubs have previously had multiple incoming lines and struggled to manage the peaks and troughs of call volume, we’ve introduced Digital Receptionist. This offers a world-first in voice recognition accuracy and enables clubs to customise how they handle different types of enquiries; so certain calls, say for general match/club information can be automated, while others such as VIP contacts, family/friends, press enquiries, urgent issues are handled by a dedicated Moneypenny Receptionist who knows their client’s business inside out and answers calls seamlessly as though based in-house either on an overspill or fully outsourced basis.

This could be the perfect solution for some of the Conference teams who have recently drawn a Premier League side in the next round of the FA Cup. Imagine how busy their phone lines are going to be when FA Cup fever sets in and fans clamour to get tickets. With the best will in the world, it’s simply not possible for many smaller clubs or non-league teams who don’t operate at full capacity to keep up with demand of this nature.

Likewise, one Premier League side I spoke to recently needed support for their receptionist who was taking dozens of calls about ticket sales enquiries when that call should have be going through to a different number. This was tying her time up and therefore reducing the efficiency of the club. But, by using our automated technology, they realised they’d be able to eliminate this and direct callers straight through to the correct department.

There are other benefits to using an outsourced telephone answering service too. This includes the peace of mind in knowing that you have a robust telephone answering/business continuity plan in place in case of emergencies. For example, a telecoms failure, factors affecting their premises as well as for day-to-day operational issues preventing staff from taking calls such as sickness, holidays, adverse weather or unplanned absences. Having an outsourced partner right beside you means all calls are covered whatever the situation.

This is exactly why Wrexham FC called us in 2011. At that time, Wrexham Supporters’ Trust had taken over the running of the Club, and all inbound phone calls were handled by a phone system that had four ISDN 2 channels. This allowed a maximum of three inbound calls to be received at any one time as one channel was reserved for outbound calls. A number of analogue lines and direct dial lines were also located at the football ground and its training ground at Colliers Park. All too often, it wasn’t enough and club supporters and other callers were getting frustrated with frequent engaged tones.

At this point, the club decided to call us. Initially they were looking for short-term support; however, we suggested that they introduce our Digital Receptionist technology. This enabled them to tailor how they handled different types of calls. Now, callers ring one number and hear a greeting asking them to say the name of the department they wish to speak to.

Busy times such as high profile games which generate increased call volumes – like their upcoming match against Stoke – are no longer an issue for the club either as our receptionists are on hand to offer support should they be needed to answer any overspill calls. They’ve even set up a new match day information line for supporters which automatically kicks in, thereby taking the pressure off the ticket office. As a result, the club’s Chief Executive Officer, Don Bircham tells us that the club is delivering greater efficiencies and vastly improved customer service, as well as saving in excess of £1,000 a year as compared to their old system.

Overall it’s an easy decision for an increasing number of football clubs. A streamlined approach to call handling with a professional partner makes for a win-win of improved operational efficiency, happy fans and stakeholders, never missing a call, and in most cases making notable cost savings.

How clubs are responding to the ‘Omnichannel’ Fan

The topic of the ‘omnichannel’ fan – hungry for 24/7 content, on TV, on the web and increasingly, via mobile – continues to capture our attention. We took the opportunity, earlier this week, to have an animated debate with a range of football clubs about the subject.

In the inspiring setting of The Gherkin, we discussed the importance of the online relationship that clubs have with their fans; what makes a great online experience and how this helps to build loyalty, enhance a club’s brand and drive commercial opportunities. Everyone agreed with the view recounted from last month’s Leaders in Sport event – ignore digital channels at your peril and make sure you’re monetising them. But there was also a recognition that clubs were at different stages on the road towards enhancing the online journey for their fans.

We were fortunate to have Scott McLeod from Everton Football Club share his experiences and insights into the significant strides they’ve taken in making it simple for supporters to engage and purchase with the club online. This, he reported, is helping to change purchasing habits of existing fans whilst also enabling them to engage with new ones.  Online engagement is at the heart of Everton’s ongoing digital strategy, which has been spearheaded by the success of the official club app. This is exciting because the app provides fans with the opportunity to purchase tickets more quickly and easily than ever before, with our TALENT Sport commerce platform integrated within the native app. All this work by Everton has resulted in the club winning an award at the Football Business Awards (read more here) as well as being voted number one by the fans in the Premier League’s annual fan survey for ease of purchasing tickets online (read more here).

Kurt Pittman from Brentford Football Club also shared his experiences about encouraging fans to move online and the importance of using data to provide a personalised experience for supporters. In fact, the focus on delivering a customised, tailored journey was a major theme throughout the event. Everyone agreed that using data about the fan in the right way helps to deepen the intimacy of the relationship. Clubs can use previous purchasing behaviours and profile information to better understand fans’ preferences – this insight can then be used to create a better, more relevant experience but also to unlock the value of the individual supporter from a commercial perspective.

Prior to holding the event, we had debated the role that the retail industry plays in informing the sports organisations how to deliver a great online experience. Tina Spooner from IMRG – the online e-retail industry body – attended the event to provide this insight, looking at trends around shoppers in the retail space. She shared how game-changers for online shoppers have been mobile, personalisation and maximising international opportunities. It was interesting to hear how consumers have shifted from shopping online to find better value, to a situation where convenience has become the key motivation. It’s clear that retailers are working hard to keep up with customer demands as they embrace mobile and how they endeavour to make it as easy for shoppers as possible to have choice and convenience. Tina shared that recent research carried out by them shows how retailers are struggling to find the right balance between engaging with consumers in a personalised way but without over-stepping the line and making it feel too ‘spooky’.

This latter point sparked off great debate; the clubs around the table all agreed that, for sports fans, it just can’t get too personal. In fact, the feeling was that this becomes a badge of honour based on their support of the club; it demonstrates that the club knows exactly how deep their loyalty lies. The role of fan data and being able to use this data in the right way to profile fans and, subsequently, engage more effectively with them, was clear. Clubs shared several examples of this, such as targeted communications with tailored videos full of relevant sporting memories to the individual supporter which helped to increase season ticket sales. Tina acknowledged that most retail brands would die to have the level of engagement and loyalty that football fans offers.

There was also a reality check where clubs intimated that, on the whole, they simply do not have the same budget as retailers and, therefore, can’t always deliver exactly the same experience online. Choice and convenience are still at the forefront of their minds when delivering a great experience, and making sure that the basic benefits are in place is fundamental. For example, fans do expect to be able to purchase a ticket easily, quickly and seamlessly, from any device – and within as few clicks as possible.

Given the retail shopper and the football fan is – in many cases – the same person, there were conversations as to why the consumer is happy to purchase online yet the football fan is often steeped in tribal traditions. There was an acknowledgement that in some cases, driving fans online required a forced change in behaviour to encourage fans to purchase online.  However, there was agreement that you still need to make the experience as rewarding as possible; prioritising relevant content for particular audiences, so the customer journey is personalised and the ‘virtual store’ is polished and clean, as well as some of the basics outlined above.

For us, we’re more certain than ever that exploiting the value of fan data in the right way helps to enhance loyalty by delivering a satisfying customer experience. Enriched data means more personalisation and opportunity for increased yield, as well as delivering enhanced commercial value to sponsors. But it was also evident that the core technology commerce platform still needs to deliver the goods when a fan is purchasing online – a few of the words used to describe this was quick, simple, and efficient – fans don’t want big bottlenecks which disappoint and means clubs have to work very hard to draw fans back online.

In the coming weeks, we’ll be looking closer at how sports clubs are finding innovative ways to create compelling online experiences and, more importantly, using online data to develop the services of the future.

We’d like to hear from you; what are your biggest challenges when engaging fans online?

Mark Dewell

Managing Director - Advanced Ticketing

 

For all news and stories see our Advanced Ticketing news site or follow us on Twitter: @Adv_TALENTSport and @MarkDewellADV

Keep DataCo or lose 10 Scottish League football clubs – the decision is yours

How the newspapers overcame a recent photo ban at Southampton. Could we be seeing more of this soon?


Yet again, the press and the football industry find themselves at war over the controversial DataCo licensing agreement. Those following Twitter or people that always keep an eye on the press box during a match would have noticed a few empty spaces as clubs started their League campaigns this weekend.
That’s because newspapers and newswires have yet to sign a new agreement with Football DataCo over rights to enter games and photographic rights. As a result, many boycotted the opening games of the new League season or resorted to guerilla tactics such as buying a ticket and watching the games from the stands or ‘blacking out’ sponsor names on the pictures of shirts.
Veteran readers of F.C. Business magazine will know this is a subject I have covered before. DataCo argue there is value in the data football matches generate and access to cover them should be paid for accordingly. The newspaper and newswires argue to charge to cover matches is a restriction of the free press and that the coverage they give is worth billions of pounds a year to league and team sponsors. Both are valid points.
But then we then get into the regular pre-season brinkmanship which seems to surround this contract. Negotiations seem to be going swimmingly and then, suddenly, a controversial new clause is put in the day before the season starts and all hell breaks loose.
The result, a stalemate where no-one wins and the biggest loser is the loyal fan –bereft of a key source of coverage.
Let me share some facts with you which may put into focus the value of DataCo cash to the clubs. Unlike most of the rest of football, the revenues made from selling DataCo licences to publish this information is shared with a bias towards the SMALLER league clubs. The Premier League only sees about 5% of DataCo revenue, whereas for some Scottish Third Division teams, the DataCo cheque can account for nearly half of their turnover. The smaller leagues (English 2 and Scots 2 and 3 – get about 80 percent of all DataCo money.
Pull that away, and you can make a fair assumption that at least 10 Scottish Football League clubs will be under severe financial strain – and will go into administration, possibly even liquidation. Does the newspaper industry want to be responsible for the death of a third of Scottish League football?
On the opposite side of the debate – this is the wrong time to be picking a fight with newspapers. They are struggling from a combination of a sluggish economy and a changing business model. Despite the growth of new media, they are still a key voice in local sport and the only commercial mass-market media in many communities now that ITV and many radio groups have given up covering local sport.
Then again, newspapers have benefitted from some of the pricey rules imposed by DataCo. DataCo requires any website that shows a club badge to pay it for the licence to do that. Go on the blogosphere and you can easily find out what bedroom-blogging fans think of that concept. The truth is that the price of DataCo licences is so high that is has priced out any blogging fan from having a serious crack at taking on the newspaper industry’s dominance of football reporting online.
Add to this the growth in the use of Twitter by the fans and the fact that some people are already creating a virtual stats feed from their mobiles during the match, and you can see that it is technology which will drive the debate about DataCo, not the newspapers.