6 ways how football mirrors customer support

Written by on July 24, 2018

Sometimes, customer support can be akin to raw contact sports, like football. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and you have to work really hard to beat the odds in your favor.

I get my kicks out of watching football until the referee blows the last whistle. I like the sports for the uncertainty, the drama, and the reward it carries – a few things that you can draw a parallel to the everyday affairs in the customer support department.

Being a hardened football fan, I feel really lucky to be working for a company whose founder and CEO believes in investing in the future of football clubs. What more can you ask from a company that has a futsal arena and foosball tables for breaktime recreation?

I became distracted from work a few weeks ago; I was on a deadline to finish a blog on customer support, but France knocked out Belgium to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals and I just couldn’t focus on anything anymore.

The most coveted football tournament was at its fever pitch. So instead of writing the article I was supposed to finish, I got onto my soapbox and wrote a draft on how football mirrors customer support. What you are going to read in this article is that epiphany I had that day. So without much further ado, let me roll the ball on why I think handling customer support is like playing football in the business realm.


1. How you pass decides how well you play

Football might be played on the turf, but a team’s victory is often preambled by how well they strategize their game inside the locker room and how well they coordinate. As proven by many great losses in history, a football team can’t afford to have ego-centric players who try to dribble the ball and score goals on their own. Like support, you can’t play all parts. You have to possess the ball, cross it, and make key passes if you want your team to win. A team’s victory is guaranteed when there is a tight collaboration between the defense, midfielders, and the strikers.

And that’s how a customer support team works, too. A lot of times, it might look like customer support reps are passing the buck to others within or outside of the team. But this is the very essence of customer support. Sometimes they have to pass a customer’s issue to the finance team when there is a payment issue or loop in the/their product manager on a call with customers to help them fix a bug. At Freshworks, we have pioneered a pit-stop model of customer support where multiple teams come together to resolve a customer problem and help them get going about their business.


“Place people over processes because no one wants to feel like a ticket.”

– Arun Mani, Managing Director, Freshworks (Europe)


Customer support shouldn’t be siloed behind closed doors and tries to tackle all customer concerns on their own. There is only one way to guarantee a good game – don’t hold back from tossing the ball around to other team members if it means victory for your team. Pass the ball when you know you are not capable of handling everything on your own.

The learning we can take from this point is to pass the ball in order to work as a team.


2. Always be on the ball

Like all sports, football requires its players to think, be quick, and be decisive. Once you’re on the field, your team has 90 minutes to score goals in the opponent’s post while fortifying your defense. You have to respond quickly when your opponents are on the offense and come out fighting strongly. Essentially, the game is all about who is faster, better, and more adaptable.

Quicker response time is a core tenet of customer support, too. One of the unlikely examples of agile customer support came out recently when Croatia had a penalty opportunity against the host team Russia. Firefighters in the Zagreb Fire Department in Croatia were glued to the TV screen to witness the historic goal that led their national team to the semi-finals. But they miss their once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the penalty kick live and hop on the firetruck as soon as a fire alarm goes in the department.

Moral: You can’t delay your service when duty calls. More so, if someone’s life depends on you.

Customer support is no different than firefighting. In today’s attention economy, faster response time and better customer engagement are what makes your business stand out from your competition. Your products and services might have the same finite set of features that the rival brands offer; you can match their pricing, run great campaigns, and poach their customers. But what ensures you success in the long-term is your unfailing professionalism in business, how agile your support is, and how well can you engage your customers.

Being agile and cutting your first response time is the new Gold Rush for businesses across industries! Here are is the average first response time based on industry.

Source: Freshchat


3. Performance trumps predictions

I usually root for Germany during the World Cup, but I was really happy to see how France rose the ranks this year round beyond everyone’s expectation. Surprisingly though, football critics all over the world had written-off France from their list of possible winners this year.

UBS ran 1000 simulations and predicted that Germany would lift the Cup. (As you can tell, I jumped and applauded their prediction at that time.) The Disqus community unanimously concluded that Brazil would further their five-time winning streak. Sports analysts ran AI- and ML- powered predictions with varying results, none of which included France. Thankfully, Paul the Octopus is long dead to not add his clairvoyance to the matter.

But guess what happened? France surprised us all by being persistent in their game and snatched their second World Cup title. It took an inertia of twenty-sweet years to emerge victorious, but their willingness to perform smashed all the data and predictions. They stuck to their guns, defended like their lives depended on it, and produced some breathtaking moments of fearless football. That image of Kylian Mbappé running traditional powerhouses Argentina ragged will last a lifetime.

In business, we look at all the past and future datasets and obsess ourselves with metrics that may or may not be accurate. Granted, data is central to customer support, but that should be used as a compass for the support team to improve and not just be obsessed with the metrics. Often, we worry about poor CSAT and NPS ratings without improving the more important things.

Eventually, I believe it’s always the human will that wins. When people in a team bring their individual human capital together and put it to great work, the data and algorithms skew in their favor. When you compound the collective potential to achieve something big, data just becomes a reflection of the effort that produces great work.


4. Red cards hurt the entire team

In football, sometimes players make costly mistakes that hurt their team’s performance and risk their chances of winning. When a player gets a red card and is sent-off from the field, it means he has violated the rules of the games despite warnings. It’s usually a single player acting on his ego, temper, or malice to injure an opponent; but the entire team ends up paying for the cost of one person’s foul. English fans still wonder what would have happened if Rooney hadn’t gotten himself sent off on that fateful cold night in Germany 12 years ago.

In the realm of customer support, negative CSAT and NPS ratings are as bad as getting a red card. When customers don’t receive the same level of support from your business that they expect, most of them churn out or say damaging things about your brand to their network. A team is as strong as its weakest link, and it blots a stigma on the entire team when a support rep drops the ball.

In 2009, Domino’s had to wrestle a nasty PR disaster when two of their pizza delivery staff in North Carolina made a “prank video” showing one of them spreading snot on pizzas, preparing sandwiches with cheese rubbed in his nose, among other antics. It was an isolated case of mischief limited to a small postcode area in North Carolina, but it shook the global pizza empire that Domino’s had built over the last 50 years. Thankfully, Domino’s got back on their feet when they launched an honest, efficient PR campaign to earn their customers’ trust.

A scathing online review, a small over-the-line joke on Twitter, or a customer support rep’s momentary rage can all cause long-term damages to your business. It’s like your credit score – it takes just one fraudulent transaction to dampen your reputation, but it takes years to earn that respect back.


5. Being knocked down can be a golden opportunity

Despite all the rules and refereeing, football can be a rough and tumble sport. You can graze your shin, sprain your ankle, skin your knees, or bust your lips when you are trying to carry the ball away from the opponents. But every crisis is an opportunity to excel; when a referee announces a free kick or a spot kick in your favor, that’s an opportunity you can’t afford to miss.

Late Johan Cruyff, legendary Dutch football player and FC Barcelona coach, once famously said, “every disadvantage has its advantage.” The maxim holds true not only for football but for many other areas of life and business. Some businesses, when faced with similar adversities, take such injuries lobbed at them and wear it as a badge on their sleeve.

As an example, we have seen many businesses in the recent years trying to turn unconstructive (sometimes, troll-ish) online reviews into something positive, something marketable and witty. Here’s how a cafe boldly exhibited one of the fickle online reviews to gain attention.

Cafe advertisement
Photo credit: Reddit

The key idea here is – if you are confident about the quality of customer service that your business offers, don’t feel bruised by a few distractors. Instead, grab the opportunity to treat that injury as a blessing in disguise.


6. Crowd support can do wonders

One thing about football is the emotions that run wild among fans and spectators and their high involvement in a game. Football is often times dubbed as a religion because of the kind of fanaticism it inspires. While the players go all out physically on the turf, a larger percentage of the game happens mentally in the minds of their fans, their coaches, team managers, the support staff, and all others involved.

French President Emmanuel Macron
French President Emmanuel became one of the highlights of World Cup 2018 when he jumped on the table flanked with powerful dignitaries and performed a victory dance when France scored against Croatia in the finals. Photo credit:

Studies have shown that players have the “home ground advantage” to win a game because of the level of cheering they get from their fans. I think that the greatest football players get their adrenaline rush during a game when they hear roaring cheers from their fans in the arena.

Similarly, if there is one thing that gets the customer support teams to perform at their optimum level, it’s the appreciation they get from the clients. Nothing gets them going like an uplifting email from a prospect ready to buy a product, or online reviews on G2Crowd/Capterra praising their quick turnaround time, or people talking enthusiastically about their product on a social media platform. It’s this kind of feedback loop that they thrive on and is fulfilling more than any monetary incentives.

We at Freshchat get very stoked when we get a great customer feedback for our support team or the product in general. Here’s an example:

Customer gives 5-star rating to Freshchat

Appreciation goes hand-in-hand with other ways to motivate your customer support team in order to create a world-class customer service.


Final whistle

Customer support might not seem as enthralling as football on a day-to-day level, but it definitely shares a common ground with The Beautiful Game. You have to simultaneously tackle dozens of problems coming at you from all directions, dodge distractions that hinder you from your mission, and collaborate closely with your team to reach your goal.

Eventually, your team plays it in the spirit of the game and not just the incentives associated with it; the real victory lies in enjoying the journey and giving your best effort regardless of the outcome.

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