Venue services on the nose

Have Your Say: Hyundai A-League fan Rob Charlton says the on-ground experience leaves a lot to be desired.

Have Your Say: Hyundai A-League fan Rob Charlton says the on-ground experience leaves a lot to be desired.

One of the techniques used in product management (especially when the ‘product- is a service) is called blueprinting [1, 2].

This is a technique for flowcharting the whole service delivery process, for identifying each step in the process, the flow between steps and the roles of service providers and customers in the delivery process.

One of the characteristics of services (as distinct from products) is that customers participate in the creation and delivery process. For example, the service provided by football is entertainment - impassioned entertainment, in fact. Consider, where would the passion come from if the customers were not an integral part of the process?

A blueprint for the service provided by an HAL match should start with the steps of booking tickets or travelling to the venue (whichever comes first for each customer) and might end with the steps involved in getting fans safely out of the ground and on their way home.

In between, all steps in the service delivery process would be identified and metrics created round their function, cost and quality. Good product managers know that every step in a service delivery blueprint is essential to ensure overall customer satisfaction.

For example, the service provided when eating out is improved if there-s convenient, economic parking, if you are seated and given a menu promptly and if the restaurant is efficient in providing the bill and getting you back to your transport.

You may think you-re going to a good restaurant to eat good food, but none of the above steps has anything to do with the quality of cooking. Any, done poorly, can ruin the experience however.

So FFA - how about getting the clubs to blueprint some of the most essential steps in the process of delivering value at HAL matches - catering provision and cost?

At the venues with which I-m most familiar (Sydney, Gosford and Newcastle), this area is an expensive, poorly organised shambles. Food choice is horrible (especially for anyone who does NOT want to be loaded with saturated fats), service is poor, service organisation is abysmal and prices make even the major banks (you know, the ones that haven-t dropped their credit card interest rates) look almost like charities!

Now I know the usual arguments advanced about catering costs at football venues - penalty rates, the difficulty of forecasting demand, relatively high rates of wastage, high rents, etc, etc.

Frankly, these arguments are self-serving rubbish. More importantly, the persistence of these arguments is causing significant damage to the overall quality of the service provided by the HAL.

What would happen if a new perspective were taken, one that states that the entire, end to end experience of attending an HAL match should delight the customer (aka the fan)?

This perspective would recognise that expensive, sub-standard catering at venues detracts significantly from the experience of attending the HAL and ultimately damages the brand. From that perspective, fixing this issue is clearly imperative.

So, what can be done?

Firstly the HAL must (re)negotiate contracts on venues so that the HAL (or FFA) has control over catering services, standards and (to some extent at least) pricing policies.

If that-s too hard, then a longer term strategy to own or otherwise control alternative stadia must be developed. In Sydney, for example, the SFS is not the only possible alternative for Sydney FC.

The atmosphere at North Sydney Oval in the early days of Northern Spirit was outstanding, and I-m sure there are other alternatives - Leichhardt Oval or Pratten Park for instance. Cash-strapped local councils may be all too willing to enter into long-term co-development agreements.

Once there is a degree of control over venues, there should be competitive tendering for the provision of catering services at the venues. The tendering should seek low-cost, high quality service provision.

These are not mutually exclusive. Companies such as McDonalds, Subway, Oporto, Boost, Sumo Salads and the like may be very interested in developing mobile, pop-up shop concepts if the idea were put to them. Local cheap eats style restaurants may like a little line extension, again if the idea were promoted with them.

Similarly, local hotels may be prepared to develop pop-up bars to boost their turnover. Importantly, margins on catering should NOT be regarded as another way to boost the income of the venue owner at the expense of the service provider (HAL) which, after all, attracts customers to the venue.

I believe all this can be done - indeed, must be done if the HAL wants to really improve its overall levels of service (and attract more fans).

Strong attention to the end to end service blueprint can focus attention on objectives such as making an afternoon or evening at an A-League match great family entertainment, fully catered, at family-friendly pricing.

It can decompose the service delivery chain to make the dysfunctional parts of the process stand out. That-s a key to even beginning to fix the issues. Once identified, the establishment of desired standards in service delivery and pricing for each area can be established and steps taken to deliver against those standards.

I-m sure the FFA and HAL has great focus on improving the quality of football on show. However, if attention is not paid to ALL components of service delivery, the football might be great, but the experience of attending can leave customers dissatisfied.

At the moment, luke-warm, greasy hamburgers served by surly staff to fans who have negotiated long, slow moving queues and then have had to pay through the nose could make even watching Lionel Messi appear to be a step too far.

References 1. Shostack, G. Lynn (1983), ‘Service design in the operating environment- in W.R. George and C. Marshall (eds) Developing New Services, American Marketing Association, Chicago 1983, pp 27-43 2. Lovelock, Christopher H. Et al 2007, ‘Services marketing-, Pearson Education, French Forest NSW, pp 212-221