How The Canucks Use Chat to Optimize the Fan Experience

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Telephone surveys are notoriously unreliable. So are email questionnaires. When it comes to engaging consumers in two-way market research, companies are increasingly looking toward chat-based technologies as a potential solution.

Case and point: the Vancouver Canucks. The ice hockey team has started using chat-based technology to capture fan feedback in real-time during home games in the team’s Vancouver stadium. The ability to generate insights through these chat-based conversations, rather than email or telephone surveys, has led to deeper, more accurate observations. It’s also led the team to make all kinds of decisions, on everything from food options to theme nights, based on the opinions of actual fans.

“Fans have a lot of entertainment options. We’re competing for attention, time and money. Rather than going to Rogers Arena to catch a game, people can choose to just stay home and watch Netflix. And in a world-class city like Vancouver, the amount of entertainment options available is endless. Feedback helps us engage our fans and figure out how we can make the in-stadium experience compelling,” says Brad Pennefather, vice president of membership and business intelligence at Canucks Sports & Entertainment.

Fans also have higher expectations now than ever before on all elements of their visit, including food options, interactions with staff, and game presentation. That means organizations like the Canucks have to really think about the end-to-end experience, starting from when fans arrive at the gates up to when they leave the arena.

“The business intelligence team can’t control how well the Canucks are playing on the ice — we have to optimize the aspects of the fan experience that we can control,” Pennefather says. “Those are things like the food and beverage selection, the intermission entertainment, and the service. The data and insights we capture from talking to our fans help us continuously improve these aspects of the experience.”

The Canucks have partnered with Rival Technologies on a project that involves sending conversational surveys to fans’ mobile phones during home games. They’re using the company’s Chat Lab platform to reach fans through the mobile messaging services they already use. Rather than sending post-game email surveys, Pennefather says the Canucks organization is leveraging mobile notifications via SMS to ping fans while they’re still at the stadium.

When new chats are available, fans are notified via SMS. The chats are designed to integrate with most popular messaging apps, including Facebook Messenger and Instagram. Pennefather says the real-time aspect to mobile chat has led to response rates in the neighborhood of 50%. Overall response rates within the first 15 minutes average an even more impressive 21%.

“Rather than recruiting people via email, we harness the brand’s existing social media communities to recruit people to chats. At the end of a chat, we invite research participants to subscribe so they can continue to engage with the brand.” says Andrew Reid, CEO of Rival Technologies. “In many instances, close to 80% of people agree to be contacted again.”

Pennefather says the real value in the company’s social chat program has been getting quantitative and qualitative data that lets the organization understand what’s working and what’s not, and how they can improve.

“Fan feedback is starting to influence product brand development and other areas of our business. For example, we are incorporating feedback from chats as we explore new ticket-subscription models — a big project with the potential to significantly improve our revenue,” Pennefather says. “We’re also starting to use the chat technology to capture insights for our lacrosse team, the Vancouver Warriors.”

Because delivering world-class fan experiences requires continuous improvement, Pennefather anticipates that the organization will continue refining its strategy. In the short term, he’s eager to continue finding new ways to use conversational technology to interact with fans and even more insights through mobile.

“Chats help us have conversations with our fans at scale, which enables to keep up with evolving consumer attitudes, opinions and preferences,” Pennefather says. “It’s a win for us — and a big win for our fans.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.