The Olympics Has a Customer Experience Problem

First off, just let me just say that I am an unapologetic sports fan and a true believer in the Olympic movement. Despite the now-routine criticisms that accompany the modern Games, I still tune in and bliss out, happy to be awed by physical feats bordering on the miraculous.

Giddy astonishment is a natural response to witnessing Usain Bolt rocketing down the track, Rafaela Silva grappling her way to gold, or Simone Biles flipping and flying around mats and beams and bars like some sort of super being dreamt up at Marvel Comics. The spectacle is beyond compare, as is the noble idea that fuels it — periodically gathering the finest athletes from around the globe simply to compete publicly with a spirit of mutual understanding, solidarity, and fair play in furtherance of that Olympic hendiatris: higher, faster, stronger. I don’t care if it’s corny, it represents some of the finest things about being human.

But the finer things aren’t topping the news coverage and social media response to the Rio Games. This year, in particular, if you didn’t make it down to Brazil in person or tune in to watch some of the events yourself, you may believe the event is a catastrophe. This translates into the Olympics customer experience and brand reputation.

Not to minimize some of the very real issues surrounding this year’s games, but I did mention earlier that this negative narrative has become commonplace with the modern Olympics. The media are naturally going to be drawn to shocking stories and hosting any such high-profile international event is going produce some level of notoriety. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) is quite persnickety about protecting the Olympic brand, and as such, I think the organization could do with a healthy dose of customer experience management to lighten up the negativity.

I’m referencing the customer experience movement, which has become a core tenet of modern business, and suggesting that systemic application of its principles could aid the IOC in keeping that Olympic torch burning bright. An Olympics customer experience reboot would mean that protecting the brand extends beyond negotiating strict licensing rules and eliciting unenforceable promises from host cities, participating nations, and affiliate organizations. It would start with acute focus on the unified intent of all the parties involved and work outward methodically to facilitate and reinforce that intent throughout the preparation, presentation, and wrap-up of every Olympic experience.

The IOC needs to step back and identify who its “customers” are (athletes, spectators, sponsors, media) and design and manage an ideal customer journey for each of those segments. Further, they should formulate a process for achieving that ideal, which should be repeatable, distributable, and scalable. Take the global broadcast complaints ranging from what’s covered and when, along with who’s profiled, to the quality of live streaming. When the participants and viewership are dissatisfied, the Olympic brand gets diluted. A cultural shift focusing squarely on delivering the best possible journey to Olympic constituents should guide every interaction from the executive level to the volunteers minding the doors at stadiums. Finally, each and every one of those Olympic representatives should be equipped and empowered to best guide that customer journey. Whether it’s economic crises, unforeseeable epidemics, unfortunate weather conditions, venue issues, or failures to deliver on infrastructure and management promises by host cities, the IOC now knows some or all of these problems are going to arise — because it’s faced some or all of these problems in the past. It can make use of that history, as well as the “customer success” stories collected throughout past games, to mitigate negativity and shore up the happiness factor. This historical data can be used to guide process improvements and formulate a better system of engagement.

By helping all Olympic representatives to deliver the most appropriate, proactive, personalized interactions with individual “customers,” the IOC can create a positive wave of both experience and sentiment. Creating a great Olympic customer experience provides a greater shared Olympic experience for all. It’s not that there won’t be any “bad” news, it’s just that when the chorus of voices from the athletes to the spectators to the volunteers is filled with joy and delight, if people are connecting and feeling that they matter at the Games, then the world won’t lose the plot so easily. There will always be naysayers, but you can significantly mute that negativity through a focus on providing the best “customer journey” possible.

I am not saying that the IOC doesn’t already have a noble mission and an infrastructure in place. It’s been pulling off the Olympics pretty consistently for over a century now, and that doesn’t happen without a plan and a system for organization and training. I am simply pointing out that a renewed commitment to accomplishing that mission and a modernizing of that infrastructure would go a long way toward keeping the Olympics customer experience story focused on the bright side. There’s still time to go for customer experience gold in Pyeongchang at 2018 Winter Olympics, and in Tokyo for the next Summer Games.