Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Service With A Smile

In the industry of customer service, there's good service, great service and then there's service that leaves you smiling and thinking, "This is almost creeping me out." That was my experience this past weekend at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex. It was absolutely amazing and without a doubt one of the top three service experiences of my lifetime.

On the surface, it was just another Braves Spring training game to be hosted at that facility. The morning weather was gloomy, with cooler temperatures and forecasts of high wind and rain. It's fairly easy to put on a happy face when it's 75 degrees and the sun is shining. It's quite a challenge, however, to be chipper for Chipper fans when you have to bust out the windbreaker and your socks are wet. Still, in a culture that celebrates the 'Me' over the 'We'; I was thoroughly astounded by how pleasant everyone who assisted us was.

To clarify the context of the experience, I was afforded the opportunity to attend a question and answer session with ESPN senior writer Buster Olney. This was an invitation only event made available to ESPN Insider subscribers. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity. Included in the invitation was mention that Buster would also be in the stands with the attendees who opted to purchase tickets to the game between the Braves and the Phillies. Without hesitation I called the box office at Disney and promptly purchased two tickets. Lee and I were set.

Since I didn't exactly resolve the question of the physical tickets before I hung up the phone with the sales agent - Would they be available at Will Call? Did I need to pick them up at the Insider registration table? – we decided to arrive early and inquire at the box office. Upon explaining my question to the young lady behind the glass, a gentleman by the name of Dean came out of the office with both our tickets and food passes (another option of which we decided to take advantage for the day) in hand. He personally escorted us to the table where the registration of Insiders would take place and gave us our wristbands for the Q&A event. He introduced us to Rick from ESPN, who was managing the table, and Dean was very attentive to our needs. Rick was equally as cordial and both were very thorough in their explanation of when and where the scheduled events would occur.

Lee and I entered the stadium, snapped some pictures of player warm ups and decided to grab a bite. Although the initial cost of $18 for a meal pass may seem high on the surface, the fact it allowed for all-you-can eat and the menu prices included $6 for burgers and $3 for bottled water, the value in the passes was quickly realized. Still it wasn't so much the value of the food as it was the service and hospitality of everyone who assisted us at the food tent. They were interested in where we were from, how we were doing and, most importantly, if we were enjoying the food. It's as if Lee and I were the celebrities in the stadium and they wanted to do their best to take care of us.

We wrapped up the early lunch and headed over to the Q&A. The poor weather limited the turn out, but the blessing in disguise was the setting for the session with Buster was more relaxed and intimate as a result. Buster was accompanied by Matthew Berry of ESPN (aka The Talented Mr. Roto), and Matthew was just incredibly gracious in greeting everyone who attended and fielding questions from the audience. He asked participants for their names, addressed us by our first names, and was genuinely interested in our questions and the corresponding baseball discussions that followed.

As for Buster Olney, I can't say enough good things about him. I have to disclaim that I was already a fan of Buster's going into the event. I read his blogs and columns online and catch him on ESPN, primarily on Mike and Mike in the morning, and was quite familiar with him as a sports writer. Still, to get his perspective in such a setting was just thrilling for me. Incredibly enough that was not the best part of the experience.

The Q&A session ended and Lee and I worked our way to the stadium for the game. After picking up a couple more burgers and drinks – yes, the passes were valid all day – we made our way to our seats in the upper level along the third base line. We had seats 5 and 6 and the entire rest of the row to my left was empty. Lee did not think Buster Olney, who watches most live games from the press box, would come and sit in our section. Almost as soon as she said that, there was Buster and the ESPN Insider team walking up the stairs. I half jokingly called out to him and told him I saved him a seat. Sure enough he worked his way down the aisle and occupied seat 7 right next to me.

There I sat, a writer wannabe, right next to a senior writer for the Worldwide Leader in Sports. We watched the game and chatted about baseball, kids and even SEC football for well over two hours. Most men my age go to games having once dreamt about being the guy on the field. In my case, I was at the game actively dreaming about being the guy to my left.

It was surreal. It was amazing. It was, in one word, awesome. Watching a baseball game with Buster Olney was the icing on the cake that was a day filled with example after example of world class customer service. It's the kind of day that reminded me that service, be it to a customer or to a neighbor, is a culture that needs to be lived and not something you feign between nine and five. Last Sunday reminded me that excellence can be found and should be pursued in all that we do. Finally, this past weekend taught me that Brian McCann of the Braves dropped about 30 pounds since last season. Thanks for the insight, Buster.

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