As the San Francisco Giants battle for a World Series title, they've already passed a threshold with their fans. Ticket holders at Giants games are no longer consumers of baseball; they're customers of the team. The Giants' management has devoted a lot of attention to building trust with their fans and is getting to know many of them the way minor league general managers do.
The distinction between consumer and customer is a key one, writes John Gerzema in a baseball-themed Inc. magazine piece.
"There are no longer consumers, only customers," he advises. "In the post-crisis age, the term consumer is a symbol of disrespect and ignorance. It is a demeaning stereotype of a mindless gobbling beast of indifference that ingests an endless abundance of goods and services without regard for consequence. The term consumer also suggests powerlessness -- someone who can be controlled and manipulated for profit."
The Giants don't simply tally their season ticket holders. They're getting to know them.
"Each season ticket holder," Gerzema reports, "has the name and phone number of a team official who will field questions or handle requests immediately. This approach, borrowed from major casinos that assign a concierge to important gamblers, builds bonds that cannot be created without such a personal connection."
While it's unfortunate to be alluding to gambling in the same context as baseball, Gerzema is talking about catering to customers, not simply tallying consumers. He quotes Russ Stanley, who's in charge of "client relations"for the ball team: "We give them the name, phone number, and e-mail address of a real person who is responsible to them. We deal with problems immediately. If a person says they had trouble with a ticket that didn’t scan at the entrance and they missed an inning or two, I give them an invitation to another game."
Part of this a baseball team practically has to do, given the price of season tickets these days. But the regard the Giants' organization seems to be showing to their most loyal fans reminds us of the respect professionals show for valued clients. That's where relationships appear to be moving in an era where managements can be called out for not realizing the difference between consumers and customers.
Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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