Customer experience lessons I learned from a hockey club

Categories Hockey

Sometimes lessons come from unusual places. Every now and again you get so angry at a situation and you need to take a step back to gain some insight from it, even if it means spiting yourself in the process. For me it was a fight with my hockey club, but I got some useful lessons from it. 

I won’t name names, it’s not meant to be a whinge session. 

The story 

  • I have been a member of a pretty decent hockey club for the last decade or so
  • In 2017, tired of the demands of a hockey season I decided to make the season my last (last game I played for the club, we beat Tuks firsts #justsaying)
  • The next season, by the power of grayskull, I was recruited to the master’s team (masters is for over 35s, but even though I was too young there is a gentleman’s agreement allowing for three younger players per team)
  • I played both the 2018 and 2019 seasons as a member of the old men’s team and I can honestly say it was one of the best playing periods of my twenty-odd year club ‘career’
  • Going into the 2020 season, I had a few lingering issues with the club but I was hoping to just get on with it.
  • In the decade that I was a member, the club grew from strength to strength. It now has a somewhat-professional staff and has established a pretty professional outfit with a complicated committee structure
  • Earlier this year, hoping to hit the turf running in 2020, I went to a practice of a ‘lower’ team at the club. 
  • I had to leave the astro with a oopsie (I fell) and was not allowed back onto the turf until I registered as a club member for 2020 (this registration is a binding agreement meaning I would be liable for full hefty club membership). 
  • I registered and played on.
  • When I had a beer at the clubhouse after practice, the new chairperson/CEO of the club told me that I would not be allowed to play masters this year because I was too young. 
  • The next day I received my first reminder to pay, so I emailed everyone saying I wouldn’t like to put a freeze on my membership until I could get a decision on playing masters – caused a bit of a scene. I also left the WhatsApp group. 
  • I got a few emails back saying that I would be allowed to play, but if I wished to practice I would need to pay more and if I wanted to play for the team I practiced with I would need to pay double – at no point was this explained to me during my cold interaction over the beer. 
  • I asked for the freezing of the membership to continue while I sorted a few things out in my mind. I also sent a list of scenarios and asked if I would have to pay extra for any of them – yes, I was being a dick, but it was all in good fun. I never got a response.
  • I never officially asked for my membership to be reinstated, but I received another reminder for money so I assumed we had all moved on. 
  • When the shutdown of SA started, I sent another email asking if I would need to pay extra for training at home. 
  • The chairperson/CEO replied and told me that I was not a member and I was very disrespectful – I hope I won’t be charged for this response
  •  I cut all ties with the club with immediate effect. 

So throughout the story, I realised my faults and I learned the following lessons about customer experience – the area that I play in professionally. 

  1. Customer complaints or grumbles are created 

When a customer moans, whether a grumble or a complaint, they are driven to do so due to something that has happened. No one wakes up in the morning and chooses to shit on a service provider. Granted, some of the grumbles may be unfair but an organisation needs to be open to understanding and look at what happened before shutting it down. 

My grumble with the club, as passive aggressive as it was, was due to something that happened. My perceived disrespect was a result of something an interaction that took place that I felt was unfair. 

  1. Complaints or grumbles come from a place of emotion. Address the emotion. 

So as a customer moans, they do so because they are in an emotional state where they feel that they have no other option but to open their mouths (or send an email). For some, the emotional tussle of not being able to accept the status quo because they feel hard done by. The emotion there is not disrespect or anger but rather disappointment. How kak did you feel when your parents said they were disappointed in you? Did you look introspectively or did you say screw that I have other parents? 

How often do organisations shun customers when they moan or complain? “Well, we have other customers – better paying customers” is the norm. We approach disappointment with resentment. 

My grumble came from a place of disappointment and I expected my disappointment to be addressed. 

  1. Customers are willing to spite themselves on principle 

Some products and services are great, but customers will still cancel and move on – even if it’s to their detriment. A customer’s choice to cancel a relationship is not taken lightly and they will forgo aspects that drove them to the relationship if they feel that the emotional aspect that caused the grumble or complaint was against what they believe to be fair.  Now imagine the organisation has the ability to drive a client to spite themselves. The organisation moves on but the customer is left with such a bitter taste in their mouth that they may never move on. 

In this instance, the club is my local. I have countless friends at the club and it is located less than two kms from my house. I am so saddened by the whole thing that I am willing to drive further to play for another club or to stop playing the sport completely. 

  1. We preach that we want open and honest feedback, but it’s difficult to hear 

Customer feedback is crucial in a feedback process. Personally, I’m a huge advocate of it. The ability to distill customer’s opinions into usable directions for a better product or service is a ticket to success. The problem comes in when organizations are so defensive in the face of negative feedback. If we can drop the defenses, possibly we can do better and retain the customer. 

My grumble had some protest in it, it was passive aggressive (as I have acknowledged) and I am happy to go into it but it was a channel for feedback. Instead of absorbing the feedback, I was met with anger. 

The conclusion

I know that I will crack a fair amount of criticism from this story and people will question my commitment to the club if my intention is to improve it. Reality is, life happens and it pains me to know that I will never be able to commit to a hockey club to the level that I would like (administratively or through coaching). For me it’s about learning and I hope that as hockey becomes more serious in South Africa, so too will our clubs around their customers – ultimately members are the ones paying the bills. 

For now, I am at ease with the whole situation – saddened but at ease. If you have a club for me, let me know. Be warned, I am a difficult member.