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.

Away Fans Matter!

The Football Supporters’ Federation urged travelling fans to share their experiences of away fixtures as part of their ‘Away Fans Matter’ campaign.

Speaking at the Supporters Summit 2013 at St George’s Park, Martin O’Hara, Deputy Chair of the FSF, outlined the main points of the campaign aiming to improve treatment of away supporters.

Fan

The Away Fans Feedback Project is an online survey designed to gather fans’ views – good and bad –about their experiences at away grounds throughout the season.

It allows the FSF to produce statistically valid examples of fan experiences, which is used to create a league table of Premier League and Football League clubs based on how satisfying a trip there is.

Clubs can then be urged to improve their treatment of away fans based on the statistics, and compared from season to season.

Over 2000 fans took the survey during the 2012/13 season, and it is hoped even more will sign up next season when it is opened up to the Conference.

Mr O’Hara said: “Away fans make our game unique. They’re the ones that create atmosphere, but they are declining. Last season they were 9% down on the season before.

“Away fans will travel for all kind of reasons, but not always just for the result. These reasons are how we encourage fans and improve atmosphere.”

In addition to the survey, the FSF will be aiming to produce a Good Ground Guide to inform fans of which clubs’ grounds are safe, reasonably priced and respectful of travel arrangements for visiting supporters.

Mr O’Hara also linked the ‘Away Fans Matter’ campaign to their ‘Twenty’s Plenty for Away Tickets’ online petition.

Almost 10,000 people have signed the petition calling for a £20 cap on away ticket prices, which when completed is automatically emailed to both the fan’s respective club and their league.

The ‘Twenty’s Plenty’ campaign supported a protest march about ticket prices outside the Premier League’s HQ on 19 June, and Mr O’Hara was confident that sustained fan pressure can yield results.

He cited the example in Germany as proof, and introduced guest speaker Martin Endemann from Football Supporters Europe.

Mr Endemann explained how the ‘Kein Zwanni’ campaign has been successful in reducing away ticket prices from around €20 to €13 in the Bundesliga.

The German campaign involved observed boycotts of local derbies, including the high profile fixture between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04.

Mr Endemann said: “This made it clear that clubs will eventually lose money. Three clubs removed categorisation in tickets due to pressure, and this will hopefully lead to other fans questioning ticketing policy at their club.”

For more information, please see the FSF Away Fans Matter campaign page here.

Written by: David Ralph

Follow on Twitter: @DavidJRalph

Football – A Political Agenda

As we draw closer to a General Election I was reminded about a head line that once appear in the nations favourite (?) newspaper way back in 1992; ‘it’s the Sun that won it’ the self obsessed daily once famously proclaimed!

Maybe this time however, the headline will be ‘it’s MUST that won it’?

As we nudge ever closer to a General Election the political cat fighting has began. In last week’s budget we were given an outline of cost savings and tax hikes that would help pull the country out of recession and reduce the deficit. Pretty uninspiring stuff from a man with funny eyebrows!

But then all of a sudden, after someone had bothered to read the red book, it emerged that there was a special clause in there aimed at protecting foreign footballers from the 50% tax on income should they reach the Champions League final at Wembley in May 2011. This was apparently at the request of Gerry Sutcliffe, the Sports Minister to help protect sport in the UK. Apparently, Madrid won the right to host this year’s final because of the low tax on earnings in Spain.

But that’s not the end of the story.

Oh how we laughed when Gordon Brown was refused a spot on Match of the Day by the BBC! Well in a shrewd piece of political chess, the Labour Government has obviously targeted football fans as a key demographic for its election campaign. Gordon Brown hanging out with the lads…well spotted the BBC.

Instead of boring us to death with the usual health care proposals, education, education, education promises and keeping very quiet about defence spending, they are taking advantage of a subject that really does matter – Football!

We all know of the very well publicised disputes over football club ownership. The Supporters are rising up and shouting extra loud at the way in which football is being run and in particular how their clubs are being run (into the ground in extreme cases!). The depth of the feeling amongst fans runs as deep as the financial troubles of Portsmouth.

And now Labour has seized the initiative, and put fans ownership of football clubs at the top of the political agenda. A political manifesto that includes proposals to give fans trusts the ‘right-to-buy’ up to a 25% stake in their club should it become available was greeted with as much joy as it was skepticism.

Are they going to tear up corporate law just so a bunch of disgruntled Gillingham fans think they can run the club better than the current owners?

For too long we’ve been casting covetous eyes at Barcelona. Held up as the idealistic model of club ownership that can one day be repeated across the footballing empire.

Barcelona, we love you!!!

But is it right that football should become a political agenda or even and election winner? I have my reservations, but at least it makes any election campaign worth following for a while.

The search for the Holy Grail!

The Red Knights!

You have to admire the ‘Red Knights’. Their charge to the rescue of the damsel in distress has been of epic proportions, so too the publicity it has generated.

We all know the story by now. The Glazers took over Man Utd in 2005, they saddled the club with more that £700m of debt in the leveraged buy out. Some fans disapproved so much that they split from the club and FC United of Manchester was born. After a series of ticket price rises and the revelations that the club was struggling to service the debt including an emergency £500m bond issue, the fans spoke out once again. Then a group of wealthy Man Utd fans headed by Keith Harris and Jim O’Neill came along and created the Red Knights with a plan to buy the Glazers out for an estimated £1.25bn.

But it all seems a bit Monty Python and the search for the Holy Grail to me!

After being subjected to a torrent of abuse aimed in their general direction, our hapless King, Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table try a number of times to storm a castle occupied by the French. However, their epic attempt comes to an abrupt end when the ‘Trojan Rabbit’ they were supposed to be hiding in is fired back over the castle wall towards them to the collective shouts of “Run away!”

It’s all very amusing and the French have the upper hand.

But how does this relate to the Man Utd story? Well, the Red Knights have a justifiable cause, but what must be remembered is that the Glazers bought a public limited company and apparently they don’t come cheap! This is their castle and they are up for the fight.

Now I’m not suggesting that Keith Harris is as hapless as our King, but the tale of his attempts to storm the Old Trafford board room have to be taken with a pinch of salt.

The whole anti-Glazer jamboree has gathered remarkable momentum with so many groups voicing their discontent to the backdrop of the Green & Gold campaign.

They are all making the right noises, but I just can’t help feeling that it all seems a bit empty and will ultimately fall flat. And if the Knights do gain control of the club will they be any better than the Glazers?

The debt is there now and unless the new owners are going to turn this into equity then it will remain a burden. What is also overlooked is the £500m bond issue will make up part of this bid, the very thing that caused the whole uproar.

I’m not for one minute suggesting that I support the Glazers. My stance on this is that the Premier League and the previous Man Utd board failed in their foresight to protect the club from the leveraging of debt onto the club. The business plan has some serious flaws that make it hard to believe it was agreed, but then on the other hand the club has acquired record sponsorship deals and turnover is at an all time high.

I just can’t help feeling that when the Red Knights finally think they’ve found their Holy Grail, they will be told to “go away we already have one!”