Center Ice, Customer Centricity and Business Lessons from the NHL


Over the weekend the 2015 Stanley Cup Final pairing was determined by two game seven match-ups. Being good gets teams to the playoffs, but being the best is determined by the details: details in strategy, vision and execution. Being the best often comes down to overtime wins and game sevens.

Photo by Bill Smith/NHL via Getty Images

As the Tampa Bay Lightning and Chicago Blackhawks prepare to face off in what promises to be an impressive showcase of speed and skill, let’s look at some lessons we can learn from the sport.

Stay one step ahead.

Hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

Fierce competition requires businesses understand what their customers want today, but also what they will want in the near- and long-term future. It takes a watchful eye on market trends, a strategy to capitalize on those trends, and the agility to respond, test and evolve faster than the competition. For more companies, these new imperatives are driving investments in cloud technologies. In a Harvard Business Review study, respondents cited business agility as the leading driver for cloud adoption, with 32 percent saying it was their primary reason. Another top focus for companies is implementing capabilities to efficiently and effectively engage and service the mobile consumer across all of their preferred channels of communication.

Look at the stats. Then look again.

Winning more face-offs, taking more shots on net and making more hits doesn’t always result in a win. In a Moneyball-approach to the game, we are starting to see age-old hockey stats like plus/minus replaced by more advanced metrics like puck possession (shot attempts and unblocked shot attempts). Enhanced statistics like this open the door to analyzing the player and team performance in new and more accurate ways.

Are the metrics used to measure success in your business aligned with your current business model and goals? For example, key performance indicators in the contact center, like first call resolution (FCR) and number of calls handled, become less relevant in a world where customers are texting, tweeting and turning to mobile apps for service. To succeed, businesses must think differently and harnessing the increasing volume and complexity of data is essential to that goals. Do you have the right tools?

Sidenote: The NHL recently entered into a multi-year partnership with SAP, kicking off with the rollout of Match Up Analysis from SAP, which uses 37 different variables to help fans make more informed picks using predictive analytics. According to an InformationWeek article, the output showed Tampa with a statistical advantage, and New York as the fan pick.

Have a strong game plan (and a good coach).

Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images
Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

We all know the story of Herb Brooks and the USA “Miracle on Ice” win over the USSR.  If you saw the movie, you know Brooks was an unconventional leader. He was known for grueling conditioning drills. He emphasized teamwork. He made players adapt to a new style of play different from anything previously seen in North America.

We can learn a lot from winning teams in business. They have strong leadership to execute on their plan. Members of the team have a clear understanding of their role and every role is important. There is trust and respect for one another. Most importantly, there is vision.

Brooks said in his famous locker room speech, “Great moments are born from great opportunity.” We are experiencing seismic shifts that are disrupting traditional business models and transforming entire industries. The opportunity is huge for companies that seize it.

Without fans, you’ve got nothing.

Fans are what keep sports franchises in business. Hockey is among the many sports with an acute focus on fan loyalty. For example, team jerseys embedded with small RFID chips give season ticket holders instant stadium discounts on food and team merchandise.

In a business environment where the value of retention is rising, delivering great customer experiences is paramount. And when it comes to customer service, it’s the details that differentiate the good from the great. According to Forrester’s Q1 2015 US Customer Experience Index report, only 1% of companies deliver an excellent customer experience. At the same time, consumer expectations for service are rising. Customers want ease, speed and convenience – and if they don’t get it, they can easily take their business elsewhere. Even if “good” is good enough, strategic improvements in the customer experience offer the added benefit of streamlining business processes and reducing support costs – and that is an outcome that few companies can afford to ignore.

I’ll wrap it up with one last quote from Gretzky, “You miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take.” Be in it to win it.