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Lessons Learned at the Ballpark

Lessons Learned at the Ballpark By Tim Fulton, TEC Chair, Atlanta

I often times receive my best training in customer service in the most unlikely situations.

My 6-year-old son, Taylor, had been pressuring me for weeks to take him to a baseball game. At the time, I was still on strike as a major league baseball fan. Hence, I decided to take him to see the local team play in the College Baseball Regional Championships.

The game was terrific. It had all the elements that have made baseball our national pastime: great hitting, exciting fielding, and a late-inning comeback by the home team.

In fact, the home team won the game.

Taylor thoroughly enjoyed the game except for one aspect. He had brought his glove to the game just in case a foul ball happened to drift in our direction. With each pitch, he leaned forward in anticipation of snagging a souvenir ball.

Unfortunately, not a single ball was hit our way.

After the final out, we weaved our way out of the bleachers toward our car in the parking lot. As we reached the stadium exit, we passed an elderly stadium attendant. He appeared to be either a university alumnus or maybe just a fan of the game that worked the gate to earn a free ticket. As the crowd pushed out onto the street, the old gent stood by the exit gate minding his own business.

As we walked by, the attendant abruptly reached down and grabbed Taylor’s glove hand as if my son was concealing contraband in his mitt.

“Son, have you got a baseball in that glove?” he asked suspiciously.

Taylor was startled by the stranger and replied, “No,” in a soft whisper.

At that moment, the attendant reached into his pocket, and pulled out a baseball and dropped it into Taylor’s empty glove.

“Now you do”, said the man, smiling broadly, “Come back and see us again.”

For a moment, Taylor stood like a statue staring down into his glove in disbelief at his prize. He than looked up at me with a smile that would have melted any father’s heart and brought moisture to my eyes.

I was numb.

Taylor grabbed my arm and tugged me out of the pedestrian traffic to the car. The ball, upon closer examination was an official game ball that had probably been fouled out of the park and retrieved by the man.

Now, my son knows as much about customer service as I do about the “RugRats”. But he made it perfectly clear that we were going to be regular visitors to that baseball stadium for years to come.

In fact, it’s safe to say that he is a baseball fan for life.

In retrospect, I believe that that gesture was one of the greatest examples of “knock your socks off” customer service that I’ve ever witnessed in my life. As a result of a rather inexpensive, but sincere gesture by a stadium attendant, baseball has a lifetime customer. This guy went into my Customer Service Hall of Fame.

So what’s the moral to this story?

Consider your business or organization. What are your front-line people doing to create lifetime customers? Are they empowered to make marketing decisions, such as the one that stadium attendant made, on the spot?

As much money as we spend on marketing our product or service, we sometimes forget that customers are won and lost on the front-line.

Do you have a Hall of Famer working for you? Or are your customer service representatives shackled by company policies and procedures to the degree that they are unable to capitalize on such “moments of truth”.

See ‘ya at the ballpark.

Tim Fulton is a TEC Chair in Atlanta. TEC (The Executive Committee - www.TEConline.com) is a membership organization for CEOs that provides continuous learning and development in a peer group setting.
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