Welcome back to our “Customer Service Heroes” series, where we invite inspiring customer service leaders to share their advice for running successful teams. This time, Benjamin Steen, Head of Customer Care, Digital Licencing and Stadium at FC Bayern Munich, shares his experience in building long-lasting customer loyalty.
The word “customer” at FC Bayern Munich implies something that is inherently commercialized and monetized. Instead, we say fans. We provide an entertainment product and our fans are emotionally connected to the brand. They love the club and they support the club — sometimes in the form of a purchase, and sometimes by cheering loudly from the stands during a game. We value both forms of support equally, which is a tenet of how we approach customer service. It’s all about understanding the fan and their connection to the club.
An emotional connection to the brand
The pandemic was truly a lesson in loyalty for us. Many of our fans looked at FC Bayern Munich as a reminder of the “old normal” — getting together with friends to fill a packed stadium, enjoying a match, and cheering loudly in the stands.
We saw more people contacting us than ever before, asking questions about stadium protocols and the future of watching matches in person. We didn’t always know the answer to the questions they were asking, as much of it depended on third-party organizations and regulators, but listening and remaining communicative during this time was essential. Fans wanted to engage with us to tell us how they’ve supported the club from afar, how they’ve watched games, and what the team meant to them during an exceptionally tough time.
There was a significant dip in revenue given the absence of game tickets, but we always remained optimistic that the revenue would come back when games returned. In the meantime, prioritizing fan loyalty and remaining empathetic by chatting with fans and listening to their stories was essential. We fully believed that work would pay off in the long run.
That’s what customer service at FC Bayern is really all about — it’s a marathon, not a sprint, to gain long-term brand loyalty and fan love.
“We serve you best”
There’s a Bavarian term that translates roughly to “We serve you best.” We always try to put the fan at the center of every campaign, every interaction, and every conversation so we can truly give them what they want, how they want it.
During my tenure at FC Bayern Munich, we’ve expanded our website into nine different languages and we have introduced multiple social accounts for different regions and languages. Our goal is to give the customer the flexibility to select the channel and the content that they want, from a range of options that we provide and continuously update. It’s not about being pushy in our content delivery and promotion, but rather about creating these ecosystems of content for the customer to find and engage with at their leisure.
At FC Bayern, we need multiple channels to provide quality customer service. We’re an entertainment product first, but we’re also a retailer (merchandise) and a media company (game streaming). Fans may interact with FC Bayern to purchase a jersey as a gift for a friend, stream a game during a backyard BBQ or just read about a new player who has joined the club. Because it’s so diversified, we don’t limit ourselves when we think about our customer service channels. We also take this into consideration when evaluating competitors and learning how to improve our own customer service function from others. We may be competitive with another football club in some ways and competitive with a retailer like Amazon in other ways. We improve our customer service efforts by taking the best that we see of all those worlds.
Balancing revenues with customer demands
In addition to providing various channels for customer engagement and service, we also constantly want to prove to people that they benefit from being an FC Bayern Munich fan. We try to treat people as people, not wallets — sometimes that means limiting our email deployments or focusing on a long-term lead nurturing strategy. It isn’t always easy to implement patience within a revenue-driven organization, but we prioritize loyalty above all else.
Data certainly helps us make the case for this strategy and execute it well. We work with data analysts to create a “Golden Record” for every fan to understand what people expect and how they interact with the brand. Parsing the data helps us create contextually relevant offers for fans based on their unique interactions and situation. If they are already a member of the club and they have children, for example, they may want to sign their children up for our kids club. Or, if another fan interacted with a lot of content about one particular player, they may be interested in the newest jersey release. It all goes back to putting the customer at the center of the experience. We create the systems and products for them to interact with, then let their individual needs and interests dictate the relationship they want to have with FC Bayern.
Looking to the future
Especially during the pandemic, our measures of customer success have evolved. We can’t compare direct revenue with loyalty. We’re an entertainment product, not an essential service that people are spending money on during a global pandemic. In the last three years, we’ve seen 200 million more people who are interested in the FC Bayern brand. It’s a result of both our success on the pitch and our emphasis on loyalty. Those 200 million people may turn from passive followers today to active spenders in the next one or two years. That’s an optimistic measure of success for us — it’s a long-term strategy to build loyalty that will sustain FC Bayern Munich for years to come.
Benjamin Steen is the Head of Customer Care, Digital Licencing and Stadium for one of the biggest professional sports clubs in the world, the Munich-based FC Bayern Munich. At $4.2 billion, FC Bayern is the third-highest valued football club in the world, generating revenues of over $700 million in 2020. Steen is responsible for curating interesting content and immersive experiences for nearly one billion FC Bayern fans across the globe.
Throughout his 17-year tenure with the successful football club, Steen has operated under the mindset that fans should be at the center of the club experience. He offers unique insights into the delicate balance between revenue generation and fan loyalty, and the impact of treating fans as long-term allies.