I have been a baseball fan — and a hardcore one at that — for most of my life. Amidst the many changes in the game — free agency, steroids, exploding ticket prices, strikes, shifts and four-hour, nine-inning games — perhaps the biggest change has been the explosion of technology and analytics that accompanies the fan experience.
Some of the technology changes have been simply miraculous. When I first became a fan, the “technology” of baseball consisted of a few local games on TV (but more likely on radio) and a box score in the local newspaper the next day that showed a skeletal summary of the game. At-bats, runs scored, hits, runs batted in, and a few other data points.
Fast forward to today, and I can “watch” a game on my phone in real time. I can review pitch selection, velocity and location for every pitch and every batter and every game available in real time — for free. I’ve been at games in which a strike call looks questionable, and the first reaction is, “Let me check my phone and see where that pitch was." All of this is accompanied by a fast array of analytics documenting every situation imaginable.
All of this technology has managed to bleed down into just about every level of the game. I was astonished to find that there was a pitch-by-pitch gamecast — audio only for now — available for my 8-year old granddaughter Lucy’s softball game.
Not only that, but I did not need to wait for the next day’s local newspaper to get a summary of the game. No, five minutes after the game was over, I got an AI-written game summary. For an 8-year-old’s softball game. Overkill? Certainly. But nonetheless miraculous.
Flip Side of Customer Experience
So that’s one side of the customer experience coin. And as you might guess, technology and customer experience also has a flip side.
Major League Baseball has gone to great lengths to ensure a common set of platforms across all the teams and all the experiences that surround attending a game. Whether you are buying a ticket, ordering a hot dog, checking a schedule, or finding out how many Red Carpet points you have, everything is linked. But not everything has been improved by all this technology. Let me give you two examples.
During the 2020 COVID season, teams wrestled with how to best make sure that they did not have to give back the money that season ticket holders had already paid. I thought the approach taken by my team, the Washington Nationals, was particularly generous — if you rolled over your ticket money from the 2020 COVID season into the 2021 season, you got an equivalent dollar value of food and merchandise credits, available on the Ballpark app, which was MLB’s effort to augment the in-person fan experience.
During 2021, it was all a bit clunky, and not universally available. The order process itself was still manual but you usually could pull up a barcode that was scanned that allowed you to tap into this free money. They even allowed you to roll this money over into the 2022 season.
This season, I watched a beer vendor and the person in front of me engage in a five-minute kabuki dance to order a beer. The dance steps involved included — but were not limited to — the following:
- The vendor pulled up a QR code on the vendor’s phone.
- The customer pulled up a QR scanning app on the customer’s phone.
- The phones then engaged in some sort of phone mating ritual in which the two phones were held up next to each other.
- All of this generated a URL on the customer’s phone.
- Clicking on said URL pulled up the Ballpark app.
- An extended search for the Red Carpet points then ensued on the Ballpark app.
- The above was repeated three times until the customer just paid with a credit card.
The net-net — about a five-minute process, satisfying no one.
Too Many Steps = Poor Customer Experience
Example two. Sometimes when you are a season-ticket holder you can’t use all of your tickets. Especially when your team is as bad as my team is this year. And so a core process is giving your tickets to friends when you can’t use them.
The ticket transfer process used to work like this.
- Email the ticket to yourself.
- Forward the email (containing a PDF) to your friend.
The ticket transfer process now works like this (not exaggerating)...
- Go to the season ticket website.
- Click to forward your ticket to someone; discover they are not in the “system.”
- If the person is not in the system, it then basically asks you to create an account for them.
- You go back to the original place and find the person you just created and click to forward the ticket.
- On the recipient end, the recipients get a notification that they have a ticket. (Haha, not so fast.)
- Upon clicking on the “ticket,” the recipient is informed that they do not have an MLB account.
- They are instructed to create one.
- They are then told to check their email to verify their account.
- They return to the MLB site, empowered by their new account, and click on their “ticket.”
- They are told they need to download the Ballpark app on their phone in order to get their ticket.
- They download the Ballpark app.
- They are told they don’t have a Ballpark account, and must create one using their MLB logon.
- They create one, and are told to check their email to verify their account.
- They return to the Ballpark app, and finally get to their ticket. And then hope that there is sufficient bandwidth available when they get to the ballpark in order to pull up the ticket.
Drawing Security, Integration Checkpoints
My point is this. Where and how you draw the security and integration checkpoints in customer experiences is a critical factor — these days, perhaps THE critical factor — in determining the effectiveness of the customer experience. Yes, in a perfect world, all of our systems and the data and information associated with them connect seamlessly and behind the scenes.
But the reality is that often we become so enamored with the technology and with integration for integration’s sake that we lose sight of how customers will actually use the technology. Those of us who love technology often make the mistake of assuming that every problem — and every customer experience — has a technology solution.
Sometimes, though, the answer is to back up a bit and investigate the minimum amount of technology to improve an experience, and resist the temptation to for technology overkill.