Relationships between a company and its customers are not always pleasant. Who hasn’t cursed Microsoft, griped about oil companies, are ranted about cell phone customer-no-service?
Customers, however, do need kind attention. Here’s an example of doing it right. My local minor league soccer team, the Portland Timbers, has had a rocky relationship with its biggest fans, the Timbers Army. Sometimes the fan cheers are not family-friendly. Profanity is common, plus there’s an attitude toward sportsmanship that we soccer dads don’t promote to our kids. (When an opponent goes down on the field with an injury, the common cheer is “You’ll go home in a Portland ambulance.” Which I think is better than than the occassional cheer when the trainers come out to tend to the player: “Let him die.” Though in Sweden I heard the fans say about an injured play: “Go buy another one.”)
The management sees lots of families coming, and the area’s youth soccer leagues are a major source of attendees, so family friendliness is important. In addition, the Timbers Army sees management decisions that don’t make sense to them.
What to do? The Timbers management has had a series of meetings with the fan leadership, described in minutes of the meeting. (Hint for readers: PTFC is Portland Timbers Football Club, the management. TA is Timbers Army. Gavin Wilkinson is the coach.)
Keys to the meeting: be direct. You’ll see the fans asking about policies and getting clear answers. The answers don’t have to be what the customers want to hear, but they should be honest and direct. You’ll see the management raising issues on their mind. At the end, they come together to talk about selling more fan apparel. Isn’t that what you’d like your angry customers to turn to?