Those who know me, know I’m a big Los Angeles Rams fan. Even those who don’t know me, but watch any of the LinkedIn Live conversations I do for this series know that, as I where at least one piece of Rams gear on every one of the convos I’ve done.
These two pictures kind of put things into perspective. This was taken in August 2020:
I took this photo earlier this week:
Needless to say I have a problem. But I’m not alone in this, as rabid sports fans of all kinds go to Fanatics.com on a regular basis to spend even more money on whatever the latest piece of gear is. Which is why I’ve been wanting to have a conversation with Carolyne Truelove, Head of Global Fan Experience for Fanatics.
During a recent LinkedIn Live conversation, Carolyne shared why Fanatics talks in terms of fan experience instead of customer experience, why employees are called athletes and managers, and why she feels employee experience and corporate culture are directly connected to the experiences fans have with the company.
Below is an edited transcript of our conversation. Click on the embedded SoundCloud player below to hear the full conversation.
Brent Leary: The folks on your team, you don’t call them employees, what do you call them?
Carolyne Truelove: So the folks on my team that are interacting with our fans every day, whether it’s through voice, chat, email or social media; we call them athletes and they’re athletes because they have to be super agile to understand the world of sports. It goes beyond what we think of sports in the United States. We’re a global company. We call them team leaders that are helping them out, and then our supervisors, we call them coaches. And so the nomenclature goes on from there, we have a team that’s responsible for the workforce operations, that’s our special teams. They have to coordinate a lot of different stuff, right. And that’s everything from our workforce management and staffing team to our HR training and recruiting teams. We’re all one big happy family, all of us are fans of sports. So it’s super exciting to work here. I can truly say it is the funnest job I’ve ever had. That’s really
Brent Leary: What’s the biggest distinction that you see between traditional customer experience and the way it’s talked about and the way that you couch it in the context of sports. So it’s fan experience.
Carolyne Truelove: Well, I think we pride ourselves in making sure that as someone is dealing with a challenging situation or excited about buying a new product, like a new Rams hoodie, we treat our customers like they’re our friends and we’re as excited about the events that they’re charged up about – as any of us might be. And we treat them with respect and all of the kindness involved in helping them resolve any type of situation. I think that’s what really makes the team special.
Brent Leary: Talk specifically about how different or how more demanding – or not demanding – the sports fan is. Are we more demanding in any way? Do we have a higher expectation than a traditional customer vendor experience?
Carolyne Truelove: Well, let’s just think about your particular situation. We’ll use you as an example. If you think about how big of a Rams fan you are, you are super passionate about it. When you take the fandom and the world of sports, and you think about all of the various fans that are out there, people are passionate about whoever their favorite teams are. And there’s so much behind that passion. It could be family tradition. It could be because you’re following someone that you went to college with. It could be that since you were a little boy or a little girl, some of the best memories that you’ve ever had have been family time, you know, watching sports. And so we recognize in the fandom that there is a ton of passion behind that. And we really represent taking care of our fans. So that passion and that family tradition and that enjoyment of the game continues even so much.
And in 2020, where we didn’t have sports on the field, we know that fan gear is still important to our fans. It became your work from home gear.
Brent Leary: I’m a co-host of this thing we call the CRM Playaz Happier Hour, where we have a bunch of CRM enthusiasts get together. We talk about all sorts of stuff. One of the things that came up was trying to figure out what the correlation is between employee experience and customer experience. And it’s a very heated debate. Some people say there’s a direct correlation, happy employees, chances are, you’re going to have happier customer experience. Some folks say that the connection is tenuous because customers can complete basically guide their own experiences without needing a whole bunch of support from employees. It’s all over the map. What’s your opinion. Which, what did you take on that?
Carolyne Truelove: I believe it’s totally connected and I can share with you that culture matters and culture is so crucial. If you think of every element of what it takes to be the number one fan brand in the world, without a strong culture where employees feel like they’re part of the charge without a culture where employees feel that they’re engaged, whether it is in the customer service area, or whether you are a technologist working on our front end, or whether you are in marketing or merchandising. If you are not passionate about what you do, and you’re not in a culture where you can thrive, that ultimately has an impact on the business and the customers that you bring in. We are in rapid growth right now. And what I love about Fanatics is that we walk the talk when it comes to culture, we are very focused on inclusion, diversity, equality, and advocacy. And it’s exciting to be at a company where our CEO is super passionate about this particular area.
Brent Leary: Do you see things turning back as we start to get out of the pandemic, or is there a new normal for the fans and the way that you engage them now that we’ve gone through the pandemic?
Carolyne Truelove: I think that as we move forward out of the pandemic, there is a sense of online shopping, being a bigger piece of the retail economy. I do believe that brick and mortar and event based activities that we do support will continue. Fanatics prides itself in agility, it’s actually one of our values. And regardless of whether we go all the way back to pre 2020, or we see something different as our economy shifts, our fans are always going to have a love for sports and our fans are going to be even more excited as sports come back on the field.
We know people are now comfortable going to stadium events and things like that because of being vaccinated. And I think the sports teams and leagues are doing different things to make people feel safe in those kinds of environments. And we’re really excited to be part of that. We’re excited to make sure that as these events are occurring, we still have our in venue shops where people can get their fan gear at our in venue locations. We’re excited to be able to reopen up our brick and mortar stores in New York. I think that overall the key is that we have to be agile to be in all of the places that the fandom wants to shop and get their gear globally. And that’s really what we’re going after.
Brent Leary: Were you able to do any experimentation as the pandemic wore on just to try different ways to see if they were more effective?
Carolyne Truelove: I would say our marketing team did an incredible job of changing the way that we were marketing our fan gear. So that really represented, you know, the fact that people were working from home or, you know, a Jersey makes a great, you know, comfortable set of pajamas and all those kinds of things on top of making sure that we had fan fans masks or a cloth face coverings that matched their favorite teams. So when I think about the way that we shifted our marketing, I think about the way that we shifted our focus into community service. When I think about all that we were able to do with the all-in challenge, those are creative ideas that might not have occurred if 2020 hadn’t happened. And we learned a lot, and it’s all based on the agility of the company.
Brent Leary: Net Promoter Score. I’m seeing a lot of companies start to say, ‘you know what, we’re phasing it out. It doesn’t seem to really tell us what we need to tell what we need to know going forward’. Is that something that you did any rethinking around? Certain metrics, traditional metrics that you were using and starting to look at other ways to measure the, the success of the engagement and the experience that customers and fans are having with Fanatics?
Carolyne Truelove: Yes. So you called out net promoter score and actually net promoter score is one of our top priorities as a company. We didn’t phase it out. In fact, we brought it back stronger and we measure net promoter score in as many places as we have the ability to do it, because we know that a customer who is receiving the status of their order or their order confirmation, we measure, how do they feel there? We measure it, of course, in all of the contact centers, but it’s really beyond that. We really want to understand what makes people keep coming back to us in every place that we might interact with them.
Brent Leary: Any new kind of metrics because of the experiments that you were doing and maybe some of the different styles of interaction and engagement?
Carolyne Truelove: I think the other thing we had time to focus on in 2020 was our technology and the fact that our technology team had done an exceptional job in creating a global platform where our fans have the opportunity to shop with us on our global sites; the same way that they would in North American e-com. And I think that allowed us to continue to focus on expanding our global footprint while doing an awesome job in the United States and Canada. So I think that when you look at what our technology team has done throughout 2020, and as we go beyond 2020, I’m excited about the fact that our technologies really support our ability to drive towards that, being that number one place to shop for your fan gear in the world.
This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.