Fans and customers – how can these two groups be compared?
In many ways, fans and customers can be the same. Both groups want something from an organisation be it a product, service or experience and expect instant access. However, I do believe there are a number of differences between fans and customers.

Fans can be somewhat immune to price, performance and reputation, but less to poor service. Customers on the other hand tend to consider factors of price, performance, reputation much more when making a purchase decision and perceive they have many more options and choice available to meet their needs.

Expectations can differ between the two groups. Customers without doubt have high expectations of quality and service and will choose carefully where they spend their money. Fans, however, have significantly higher expectations compared with customers and are far more vocal at sharing these when things go wrong. Fans expect as they have a personal connection and attachment to a brand/product that this is to be reciprocated on a 1:1 level. They do not accept as easily being classified as a number (queue, order etc.) and want much more personal recognition and attention than customers perhaps expect.

Another interesting point between fans and customers relates to data and how much you know about them. We can know a lot about fans without them making a purchase; they are willing to give away data and information in order to build a relationship and personal connection with an organisation they are a fan of. It is interesting to question if this is the same for customers or do customers only give personal details and information when buying something?

Which are the most important communication instruments you contact Arsenal’s fans with? And which channels might be implemented in the future?
In my experience, fans will select the channel they want to use to communicate with you based on two factors – the importance of their issue/reason for contacting you AND how easy you make the channel to be accessible.

For instance, if a fan wants to get an immediate response to an issue or query, without doubt the telephone remains their primary channel of choice. Although it can be seen to be frustrating navigating IVR menus, having to make the time out of your day to call in and speak to someone our fans they want the personal conversation and human reassurance their query or issue has been acknowledged and addressed far more than (preserved) speed of transaction and reply they may get with social media.

If the reason for contact is not urgent or highly important to fans they will tend to switch to more digital channels such as email and twitter. This is more typical in cases of feedback on matches, experiences and club business. We also have a significant number of fans who still like to use traditional white mail and faxes and face to face walk up’s to the service team based at the stadium.

In the future, we will be introducing webchat and bots to our service offering, but this will only be in areas where we know there are lots of frequently asked questions we can help improve service on without losing personal connections. 

In times of social media, who does fan communication more effectively: Arsenal or the fans themselves?
This is a great question.  Nowadays there is so much information, knowledge and opinion about football the conversations never really end so assessing the effectiveness is an interesting debate.  

Pre match communication activities are broadly shared between fans and clubs building up to the game day, team selection, tactics – even down to logistics on how to get to the game, transport delays and which pubs to meet your friends and fellow fans in. There is a lot of communication and exchanges in this period.

During the game, the Arsenal communications and broadcasting becomes key as this is a core channel fans globally are using to watch and follow the game, but we often find fans watching the match live (be it at home or in the stadium) tweeting their commentary and views wanting to be the first to share the breaking news and performance updates.

Post-match, the fans feedback and opinions tends to dominate the social channels. We can see on any official Arsenal FC post, thousands and thousands of comments and replies hit within minutes from across the global fan base. 

There seems to be a huge variety of fan types. How many did you identify and how do you approach each of these types?
There are many definitions of fans, but for us if someone associates themselves as a fan of our club that is important enough for us to respond to and acknowledge as a priority.

We have several different membership options ranging from Season Ticket Holders who attend every game, to our Junior Gunners scheme based on young children and Supporters Club Members based around the world coming together in their local community to support Arsenal.

We try to ensure when communicating with our fans and different member groups that we recognise them and their needs specifically. Tone of voice, personal details (favourite player, last match attended etc.) all become key pieces of information we use in the conversation and dialogue to build rapport and show appreciation to each and every fan who contacts the club.

Additionally we use mosaic data, purchase history and personal preferences to build a better picture of our fans and their needs.

Football fans in general can get very emotional when it comes to success or failure of their team. How do you face positively or negatively engaged fans?
Head on and with a smile (if we can). Each football game, each season comes with its own rollercoaster of emotions, drama and excitement. That’s what makes it so popular and addictive for many. In our world, we cannot do anything but positively embrace head on the performance on the pitch and the feedback from the fans.

It is far easier now than it ever has been for fans to contact their club and provide feedback, complaints, and compliments. The number of open communication channels have increased coupled with our changing behaviour to voice our satisfaction and dissatisfaction more openly.  If we as a Club didn’t openly acknowledge and respond to fans feedback, the world of social media and immediate communications would mean conversations would roll on without our voice and presence.

We want to celebrate with our fans and share all the positive moments, wins and successes when the happen. Similarly, we all feel the disappointment and sad times when things don’t go our way and it is in these moments and our ability to openly relate to our fans the highs and the lows that we become stronger together and build lasting relationships.

What can retailers learn from Arsenal’s fan services?
  1. Never underestimate the importance of emotional management for every interaction with your customers. This is what makes people turn into fans.
  2. Moments matter more than end-to-end experiences. It is important to map your whole process and look for improvements, but it is far more important to understand the critical moments (including recovery when things go wrong) these matter much more to people than the whole jigsaw.
  3. No matter what your product or brand proposition is or how strong and popular it is – personal service and engagement is still everything.
Charlotte Kenny will talk at the 67th International Retail Summit on 7 and 8 September 2017.