Dropping the Ball

This is really Basic Retailing 101, but sometimes things happen that remind of us of the fundamental truths of the Universe and cause us to stop and think.  That happened to me last night.  But first, some background.

Some years ago, there was a local discount store chain that had the reputation of never having the merchandise that they advertised.  It happened so often that it became a local joke.  "Oh, they’re advertising lawn mowers.  That means that they’re out of them."  Sadly, it was often true and the chain is long gone.

I could never understand why this was.  First, I did business with another division of the same company and the quickest way to get yourself and your line thrown out on the street was to fail to support an ad. 
Their buyers were ruthless.  They might let you slide by once, but if it happened again, you were gone.  Period.  It just didn’t make sense that another branch of the same company could be so sloppy about the same issue.

Second, there are a thousand different ways to make a customer mad without spending any money at all.  Why go to the expense of running ads to tick people off when it’s so easy to do for free?  Again, it just didn’t make sense.

Which brings me to last night.  Here in St. Louis, home of the World Champion Cardinals (I know.  They’re not  so hot this year, but  the season’s only half over.), we have two minor league baseball teams.  They belong to the independent Frontier League.  As you might imagine, sharing the market with the Cardinals, they don’t get a lot of publicity, even though one of the two teams is in first place with the highest winning percentage of any baseball team in any league.  Both teams’ games are broadcast on the radio but there’s no TV and little newspaper coverage. 

Last night the Frontier League played their All-Star Game in Florence, KY.  There was no radio broadcast, but there was actually streaming video on the league’s web site, or at least there was supposed to be.  The league offers a limited number of games on what it calls FLTV, at $6.99 per game.  That seems a little high to me, especially since you can buy a ticket and go to the game for as little as $5.00.  But the All-Star Game was free.  I was home so I decided to check it out.  Maybe it would be worth $6.99 for some future games, especially road games near the end of the season.

So what happened?  It didn’t work.  There was no video.  There was no audio.  There was nothing but a white box with the words "Please be patient."  Oh, there was one other thing.  They thoughtfully provided a chat room where fans could discuss the game, which featured a long string of posts complaining about the lack of the promised video.

Don’t get me wrong.  Things happen, especially when you’re dealing with technology. Please_be_patient_2
But in this case, someone really dropped the ball (pun intended).  They obviously offered the game at no charge to build an audience who would pay for future games.  That’s a great strategy.  We’re big fans of free samples.  But if you’re going to do that, you’d better be sure that the sample is a good one.

I was annoyed that the video wasn’t available, but not nearly as annoyed as I would have been if I had spent seven dollars.  Based on my experience last night, I won’t be spending any money there in the future and I would imagine that most of the other disappointed fans won’t be either.  If you put your money in the Coke machine and you don’t get your Coke, the logical response isn’t to put in more money.

Technology may have let the league down, but they also have the technology to do some damage control and they didn’t take advantage of it.  All we saw on the web site was the white box.  Someone on the transmitting end should have been monitoring the signal.  Someone should also have been monitoring the chat room messages.  When it became obvious that there was a problem, someone should have started posting messages.  Apologize for the problem.  Offer an explanation.  Offer another game at no charge or even offer a replay of the game once the glitch has been fixed. Most important, let people know what’s going on.

Minor league baseball is known for its promotions.  The talent may not be the greatest, but they go out of their way to make sure that fans have a good time at the game.  They should know better.  And so should we.  Any time we make contact with a potential customer, whether it’s an ad, an event, a give-away, or even a simple sales transaction, we should plan ahead.  Every detail should be covered.  We often only get one chance and we should do everything we can to make sure it’s as perfect as we can make it.  And, part of every promotion plan should be a "Plan B".  What will we do if something goes wrong?

It’s really silly to spend money to make customers mad when most of us can do such a good job of it for free.

(BTW, my team won 11-1. I sure would have liked to see it.)

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