Winning Back Customers

8 years ago by in Action Not Words, Marketing Tagged: , ,
Steve Garvey after "The Home Run" in the 1984 NLCS. Photo: San Diego Union-Tribune

Garvey after "The Home Run" in 1984

Being a marketing/communications professional for an S&P 500 company like Intuit, I am always interested in hearing how others work hard to get and keep customers.

Working specifically on the Quicken and TurboTax businesses, I interact with customers on a daily basis utilizing social media networks like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook. I do my best to help engage and actively listen to their issues to help resolve them. At Intuit, we call it “wowing” a customer.

Being the married father of three (soon to be four!), I am also a consumer who experiences sometimes what our own customers experience.

I am a self-proclaimed sports nut. I love all the majors but have the strongest affinity for baseball – once and always America’s pastime.

When my family moved to San Diego in 1978, I instantly adopted my new home team – the San Diego Padres and our relationship has been solid ever since. There haven’t been a whole lot of years where they’ve made it really fun, but baseball is baseball and for me the sun rises and sets on my beloved hometown team. 1984 was the best of all as I watched the Swingin’ Friars advance to their first World Series on the shoulders of Steve Garvey’s blast that sunk the Cubs.

Fast forward 20 years after the Garvey home run in Game 4 against the Cubs and I am sitting in my 20-game season tickets at the Padres new gem of a ballpark, Petco Park. Now a consumer with income to spend, I ponied up back to 2001 and had reserved my spot in the Padres new stadium by enduring a few tough years of watching teams built to lose. But that was OK. I was investing in the future and the team and its ownership looked ready to invest to bring a winner to San Diego.

It could be argued that 2005 was a good year…as the Padres won the West but were swept (again!) by the Cardinals. It could be argued that 2006 was also a good year as the Padres won the Wildcard and were swept by the Cardinals (AGAIN!) and bowed out early.

But the on-the-field performance was something I was willing to accept. Sometimes you don’t get the breaks and as much as you want the team to win, they just don’t. Even with a great effort, it doesn’t always go your way.

The issue that kept gnawing away at me had nothing to do with the front office’s inability to grow minor league talent. Or ownership’s inability (or desire not to) to swing a late-season trade to help our chances at going deep in the playoffs. No, it was none of that.

Instead, what was eating this Padres fan of almost 30 years was an almost flippant attitude toward the loyal Padres fans. The fans that paid for season tickets through all the bad years. The fans that voted yes on Prop C to give our team a new home downtown. The fans who paid a premium for the new stadium in their ticket prices and $9 near-beer, and $12 hamburgers.

Fast forward to last season. Faced with the renewal notice for my 20-game season seats, I declined. It was  tough decision for me. So tough in fact I oscillated several times between yes and no. I was a die-hard Padres and baseball fan. It was a gut-wrenching decision but I finally weighed my options and opted out.

It was a sad day for me.

What lead me to the decision? Plain and simple: bad customer experience coupled with being ignored by the team that I love. The Padres just weren’t that fan friendly. Sure, the ballpark and downtown are both beautiful but prices skyrocketed but the fun didn’t.

Petco Park had become as exciting as watching paint dry. No buzz, no wins and no appreciation for its fans.

So, I have stayed away for the most part. Three years ago I would have attended 25 games or more. The last two years I’ve been four total games. Four. Still can’t believe that.

Then, last weekend, a breakthrough.

Tom Garfinkel, President San Diego Padres

Tom Garfinkel, COO San Diego Padres

As most Padres fans know, the team is in the process of a sale from current majority owner John Moores to former Arizona Diamondbacks General Partner, and now Padres CEO, Jeff Moorad. This meant the caustic and, frankly, fan-unfriendly Sandy Alderson was gone along with many of the Padres brass.

One of the great guys Moorad brought with him was Padres current President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Garfinkel.

Garfinkel has been incredibly accessible to the media and granted an interview to the San Diego Union-Tribune last week that gave me much hope. In the interview, Garfinkel acknowledged what long-time fans and season ticket holders had been saying since the move to Petco Park: fans we’re not the focus.

For an organization to step out and admit that they had lost some of their focus is difficult. Garfinkel – by simply admitting it – started to heal the wounds. Garfinkel did a great job of defusing the long-standing anger with many fans. Of course, not everyone is satisfied. They want a World Series win now and no matter what they new ownership does, they won’ t be happy. It’s their right but I am glad to see Garfinkel start to try and win us back.

I was so impressed by his tone and acknowledgment of a problem (something Alderson and his bunker mentality would never allow), I shot him an email.

Within hours he had responded with a nice note saying he understood my point of view and that he hoped the Padres could do what they could to earn me back as a customer. I am sure many contacted him after the article but he obviously knew the importance of a personal response.

All businesses are about relationships and service. The Padres have been awful in recent years with their customers but Garfinkel and Moorad are taking early steps to bring customer focus back.

Today I grabbed our mail and low and behold a letter from Garfinkel was part of my daily stack.

It was handwritten, included some tickets to an upcoming game, and simply said:

Scott -

I hope you and your family can use these and come out and enjoy the game. We hope that we can earn back your trust.

All the Best,


Now, the tickets were an amazing touch that I would have never expected. My response would have been equal if it had just been a hand-written note. But the step that Mr.Garfinkel has taken to earn me back as a customer speaks volumes about him and the mindset he is trying to drive through the organization.

The Padres have a lot of hard work to do to get those season ticket holders, and fans who attended their games, to come back in force. And as the product on the field struggles, they won’t have the easy fix of a team winning and playoff baseball back in San Diego.

I am only one customer and this is my experience. I am impressed as both a customer and as a fellow marketing professional.

Mr. Garfinkel plain and simply gets it. It’s about the customers. It’s about providing value so price is not an issue. It’s about listening and reacting to what your customers want. It’s about balancing the short and long term goals of the organization. These guys simply get it.

Perhaps the tide has turned.

I sort of think it has.



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