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Sunday, June 5, 2011

Sports. Just service encounters with extreme customer interaction.

I’m a sports fan.

My pragmatic side knows athletic competition is mostly arbitrary, but as entertainment businesses go, sports have some of the richest service environments developed.

Customer-to-customer interaction isn't just encouraged, it's expected. (In fact, without any other customers, sports entertainment would be a pretty silly service encounter indeed.) Front-line service providers (the athletes) prefer the environment when customers (fans) become part of the performance.

And so it is with today’s post.

With a nod to the ongoing Stanley Cup final series, here is how the Vancouver Canucks anthem singer Mark Donnelly and 18,500+ fans collaborate on production of Oh Canada. (Full disclaimer, I’m a born & raised western Canadian, though I would think this was a cool execution in any context.)

Notice that Mark raises the microphone to the crowd to indicate that it is their turn to carry the song. This isn’t a singer taking advantage of an unusually participative crowd, it’s the way the service encounter begins on Canucks game nights. Customers know & accept their role in the production. Even those attending for the first time pick up the social cues from other customers quickly enough to participate.

In this encounter, something so routine as the singing of a national anthem, when embraced by the customers, changes the entertainment experience and makes it much more compelling than it is in other venues.

It is the nature of sports experiences that the customer-customer interaction makes the experience richer. Customers arrive in the service environment ready for a heightened level of customer-customer interaction and co-production. But they didn’t always show up to Canucks games expecting to sing the national anthem. That built over time.

Ironically, customers’ ability to impact the result of their service experience is greater in almost every other type of service than entertainment. So how do you take a standard service environment and, like Mark Donnelly has done, create one where customers support each-others’ experiences? How do you develop, over time, the customer role in the production of the encounter?

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