Guest Post: How Fanatics Kept a Fan-Focused Customer Experience During Company Hypergrowth

August 24, 2021

For the latest installment of our Customer Service Heroes series, we’re taking it to the field and inviting customer experience leader Nigel Ponds to share his inspiring story and advice. As the Global Director of Resource Planning and Telephony at Fanatics, Nigel helps lead the company through its hypergrowth stage. 

The market leader for sports merchandise also operates the ecommerce websites of major professional sports leagues (NASCAR, NBA, NFL, PGA, etc.), media brands (NBC Sports, CBS Sports, and more), and more than 150 collegiate and professional teams. It’s the exclusive online distributor for the U.S. Olympic Team and Paris St. Germain. 

It’s no wonder that, for Fanatics, life is all about the game. Fanatics sees its customers as fans. Its customer service agents, also known as athletes, are crucial for driving customer loyalty and growth on a global level. In this post, Nigel shares how Fanatics was able to quickly scale its customer service efforts, build a cohesive customer experience, offer convenient self-service capabilities for fans, and make every customer interaction more engaging — all with an influx of funding, several brand acquisitions, and the trend towards online shopping during the pandemic.

Over the past year, we’ve been in a great position at Fanatics. We’ve seen a huge uptick in new fans around the world that want to show their pride for their favorite sports teams, whether it’s a COVID-19 mask or t-shirt. At the same time, we had the funding to meet this increased demand and scale up our operations. But we still needed to keep our customers at the forefront when we looked to support our growing global footprint. Here’s how we managed to stay customer-focused during a hypergrowth stage at Fanatics.

Adopting an omnichannel customer service approach

A few years ago, our customer service technologies were a little behind at Fanatics. We offer support through calls, chats, and emails, but back then, these were siloed across different platforms. That meant we had a complicated contact management scenario where we were forced to constantly reallocate agents to each channel based on forecasted volume.

Our previous approach also led to a disjointed customer experience. Fans would end up waiting for support on one channel while athletes sat idle on another. This was frustrating for both fans and athletes alike, so we started looking for a way to move towards a more integrated approach to customer service.

We really needed a way to share our resources across every channel, so we transitioned to an omnichannel solution and experienced much greater efficiency. With the new solution, customer contacts from any channel automatically route to the longest available agent with the right skillset. Since we started passing the baton between our athletes, we saw a measurable increase in our net promoter score (NPS).

Offering self-service capabilities fans want

As ecommerce is our primary business, we receive a lot of inquiries from fans asking when their orders will arrive. We also recognized that fans don’t always want to speak to a live person for basic questions about their order or our return policy, so we decided to offer some self-service options.

For example, we introduced an automated solution to allow customers to find out where their package is in the shipment process without having to speak with a customer service agent. We also launched a “Fanbot” that can handle a lot of transactional inquiries on its own before passing the customer on to an available agent. Our fanbot can “tee up” our athletes with the basic information they need to solve a fan’s problem. These self-service options are not only convenient for fans, but they also allow us to handle more volume without scaling our contact center. 

We’ve also been building these solutions out further by actively guiding customers to more convenient channels or self-service capabilities. This helps fans get their inquiries solved in ways they may not have known were available.

Building a holistic customer experience

Besides improving our internal customer service operations, we took a more holistic approach to optimizing the customer experience. The customer experience is a game of inches; the little details matter. We put a heavy focus on determining which actions we could take to increase our NPS so we could better understand what was happening globally.

This meant focusing on areas beyond our contact center — like our shipping process, website messaging, and more. For example, we work closely with our brand partners to ensure our agents and automated messages use localized and authentic language that’s relatable for fans from different regions. These efforts have helped Fanatics offer localized interactions at scale.

Another key success factor for Fanatics is its use of sports lingo to make things fun. As mentioned, our customers are fans and our agents are athletes. While Fanatics does hire native speakers to cover its global fans’ languages, it’s also great when we can hire customer service agents that are sports fans as well. Having knowledge and passion for sports helps our agents better relate to customers and offer much more positive and memorable experiences. 

Focusing on the fans

Despite the pandemic preventing or delaying some sports events, we’re seeing a huge uptick in global fans for local sports leagues and teams around the world. Through our investment in contact center technologies, customer self-service options, and knowledgeable customer service agents, we were well-positioned to take advantage of this growth opportunity. 

We attribute a huge part of our hypergrowth to putting our fans first, and I can’t recommend this customer-centric approach enough for other companies. At Fanatics, we live and breathe sports within our company culture, and this makes customer interactions more captivating. I think this past year has proven that our dedication to delivering positive customer experiences through technology is a winning formula.

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