ASQ Influential Voices: Quality Questions & Challenges

Posted on July 5, 2013 | in ASQ Influential Voices, Quality, Sports, Tickets | by
ASQ influential voices blog

The ASQ Influential Voices is a global network of bloggers reinforcing the importance of quality from multiple perspectives.

Happy Day After Independence Day, America! I hope that everyone reading this today had a very smart and safe holiday.

As a member of the ASQ Influential Voices, I provide a response to a topic/question/general wondering ASQ’s CEO Paul Borawski shares via his blog on a monthly basis. In this month’s blog post, he asks the following questions:

– What is the most important challenge the quality community faces in ensuring that the value of quality is fully realized for the benefit of society?
– And, what question does the quality community most need answered in order to advance the state of quality practice in the world?

I dabble in an industry where, let’s face it, quality focus hardly exists.

Stephen Strasburg Pitching

The sports industry has organizations (teams, service providers, and manufacturers) at both ends of the technology spectrum – forward-thinking organizations who have all of the latest and greatest technologies (Nike, adidas, social media connections with fans), and organizations that are in the business operations dark ages (high employee turnover, low business sophistication, low teamwork, heavily hierarchy-based, ol’ boys club, cost-focused instead of value-focused).

What is the big difference between the forward-thinking organizations and those that lag behind? Total focus on the customer.

Think about it. Organizations that are shining stars of the industry – Nike, adidas, the Dallas Mavericks, the Dayton Dragons – they not only acknowledge that their operation cannot succeed without fan support and attendance, but they make them the complete focal point of just about every decision they make.

Nike and adidas get overtaken by up-and-comers if they don’t focus on new and exciting products that their fans love and purchase. New technologies go into high-performance products that make their users run faster, jump higher, stay cool, stay warm, and become the best athletes they can possibly be.

The Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban is very fan-oriented, responds to fans via Twitter, writes a public-facing blog, is extremely approachable at games, and has even invited fans to design uniforms for the Mavericks. The highest ranking dude in the Mavericks organization is the public face of the franchise, not the best player.

The fan experience with the Dayton Dragons at Fifth Third Field is the best I’ve ever seen. (I’ve also heard wonderful things about the Greenville Drive but I’ve yet to make it to one of their games. Other clubs do well too but I haven’t visited every stadium.)

In the whole “you get what you pay for” vein and the “you have to spend money to make money” artery, high-performing organizations think like this:

– If you provide value and the fans come, the money the fans spend comes too. The better you do this, the more your revenues should grow.
– If you cut costs in order to serve the same number of fans, you are capping your revenue because you’re capping your fan base. The more you do this, the more your product will deteriorate into mediocrity.

Nothing I’ve said here is rocket science. If you invest properly in your fans and your people, you have a great opportunity to grow and thrive.

BUT…how do you know how to invest in your fans? This is where quality comes into play.

How do I know there are quality questions in sports organizations? Here’s a concessions example and here’s a stadium cleanliness example.

Recently I published a post about trying to answer “What is quality?” I had my own definition, but a bunch of readers on LinkedIn also chimed in with their own definitions (which was great!) which sometimes differed from mine.

And guess what – it doesn’t stop there.

quality definitions

From ASQ’s Global State of Quality Research survey results

ASQ recently shared elements from their survey on the Global State of Quality Research, and above are the top ten definitions for quality. Lots of mentions of “customer” and “expectations” and “right way” and “value” – I’m not at all surprised.

My definition:

the rate by which customer expectations are met, where customer expectations are “what the customer wants, the quantity the customer wants, when the customer wants it, where the customer wants it, and in what condition the customer wants it.”

Because quality starts in the boardroom, your highest ranking quality practitioner is your highest ranking official. It is the customer who defines the quality expectations, but it is the senior manager who verifies that those expectations of quality are met and delivered.

So what is the biggest challenge for “highest ranking officials” for ensuring that quality is being delivered to the customer? Starting at the beginning and properly defining and measuring customer expectations. 

Teams try to copy what the Mavericks do with their fans at games or what the Dragons do with their fans at games. This is the equivalent of Toyota inviting executives from other car companies to come in and copy the TPS/Lean tools from their factories. (Which, oh, by the way, happened.)

All the copiers do is take the tools but not the “why” behind the tool implementations or the culture that defines why those tools are effective.

Teams should work with their fans and customers to properly define what will provide the optimal fan experience. Unfortunately teams think that just sending out a survey to season ticket holders or group package buyers is sufficient to get the optimal fan experience data.

Well guess what – you’ve already sold them on the game! They’ve already bought in! What they also need to do is target those fans that are on the fence about attending games – what will turn them toward attending games instead of choosing another vendor or outlet for their entertainment? How often is that fan data captured? How are their needs defined?

Simply adding things to a concessions menu or coming up with new in-game “entertainment” stuff (that is, of course, branded) without knowing whether the fans care is like yelling into the darkness.

But now how do you measure quality? How do you measure how you’re meeting customer expectations?

Without being prescriptive, I think the easiest answer is attendance. I say this because the primary objective of the team business model is to bring the fans in and get them to return by providing value that they want to continually receive. (See definition #6 on the above graphic.)

jon spoelstra

Jon Spoelstra

Jon Spoelstra, who I’ve written about in the past, wrote a book called How To Sell The Last Seat In The House. He says the lifeblood of the team sports industry is ticket sales. Ticket sales tell you that you’re pleasing your fans, and the more fans you have the more money they bring with them AND the more eyeballs see sponsor logos.

So that has to be the biggest quality metric for a sports team – attendance. There can be other indirect metrics from there (P/L being a really big one) but that has to be the most important.

To answer Paul’s second question – what question does the quality community (again, highest ranking officials) need answered to advance the state of quality in the organization and the public – my response is how to properly measure quality with a meaningful and actionable metric. I also think we’ve properly assessed what that metric should be as well.

What do you think?

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive an honorarium from ASQ for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

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2 Responses to “ASQ Influential Voices: Quality Questions & Challenges”

  1. Aaron Finkelstein says:

    I agree but how can this approach work for the Tampa Bay Rays? They cannot seem to provide value that fans are willing to pay for, hence attendence is low. Their revenue comes from other teams and TV.

    • Chad Walters says:

      Hi Aaron –

      I have two responses for you.

      First, the way any team should approach the concept of providing value is by identifying what will convince the potential Rays game attendee (the fence sitter) that the investment in going to the Rays game (traffic, crossing the bridge, paying for parking and ticket and concessions, and all the associated extra time) is lower than the value received (exciting players, the game itself, the entertainment outlets in the stadium, low time investment in non-value-adding activities like waiting in lines or navigating dirty concourses). Make the time/money cost of attending lower than the value of the experience, and there will be shifts.

      Second, I have never been and will never be an advocate for new stadiums funded by taxpayer monies or forcing investment on behalf of the taxpayers. I think teams are possibly getting smarter about that and finding ways to get outside or private funding and leaving taxpayer funds alone. However, the Rays are a special case in that they inhabited a stadium that was built on speculation and by the time they started playing it was already somewhat dated. The main fan base attending Rays games cross the big bridge to get there, and that makes the value proposition for fans tough to achieve (it’s a cost that the Rays themselves struggle to get past, no matter what value they offer to fans). The Trop is in a bad location for fans and ideally the stadium could be lifted and placed in an area closer to the fans, but that’s not possible.

      Until the Rays get a new stadium on the other side of the bridge there will be issues. That doesn’t mean the Rays can’t close the gap some more.

      Now if what you say is true – the majority of their revenues come from other teams (revenue sharing) and television, shouldn’t the Rays take all of their ticket money and invest it in making every game absolutely amazing and awesome? Like the game is a sideshow to even more concerts or fireworks or just a huge minor league level entertainment spectacle?

      There are ways to do this, not even speaking from a Lean and continuous improvement standpoint. It’s just that teams don’t have the sophisticated multi-faceted business minds that other businesses have, leadership that is open to considering doing things completely differently. I’m going to have some upcoming posts relaying this lack of business sophistication, showing that teams and other sports-related organizations have not learned past lessons from their traditional business brethren like the automotive industry.

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