Emotion Anyone? What Great Customer Experience & Tennis May Have in Common

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I made what I think is an observation about an unusual difference between men and women today while I was on the tennis court.  That’s right, the tennis court.

About four years ago, I began my tennis quest.  And my singular mission was and remains rather simple – to not be embarrassing.  You see, I have a daughter who plays competitive junior tennis and looks like a pro out there.  Me?  Not so much.

A few years of lessons and clinics later, however, I must admit that I have improved quite a bit, so much so that I now play on a competitive women’s team.

During any of our matches, the most commonly spoken words are not “Love all,” but “I’m sorry.”  “I’m sorry” to my doubles partner for whacking her in the back of the head with my serve or hitting the ball into the net off an easy forehand.  “I’m sorry” to my opponent when she has to walk onto the adjoining court to retrieve a ball that I miss-hit.  “I’m sorry” you dropped the ball when I tossed it to you.

I think it is quite ridiculous actually that we shower each other with a waterfall of apologies.  If my partner says, “I’m sorry,” I quickly respond, “No need to say you’re sorry.  It’s all about the fun!”

I don’t understand why we women do it.  Are we afraid our partner will get angry with us?  And really, who cares about the opponent?  They are opponents, right?  Just kidding, it’s a friendly game, but do we want them to like us?

Are we as women so emotionally driven that we carry over some sort of need to be liked into a competitive situation?

Clearly the men on the tennis courts on either side of us don’t have this same need.  Two doubles matches were going on – one on either side of my court.  On the right, the average player age was about 75, and on the left maybe 45.  Eight men playing and not one “I’m sorry.”  In fact, they didn’t speak to their opponents at all until after their matches were finished.  If someone missed a shot there might be a huff, a wail, an appropriately selected four-letter word, and I did see one thrown racquet, but no apologies!  It was “game face on” the entire match!  The 45-year-olds hurried out with their smart phones, waved bye and said, “Great match, see you next week.”

I think the 75-year-olds had the smarter idea retiring to the lounge for a beer (or two) and some popcorn.  After my match ended, I decided I’d grab a bag of popcorn for the road.  As I made my way past the gentlemen, I accidently whacked one of them in the head with the end of my racquet.

“Oh, I am so sorry!”

“That’s okay, honey, you just beat my wife to it.”

Ron, who I came to find out is 90, chimes in, “He was dozing off over there anyway.  Thanks for bringing him back.”

The third one, Gill, who clearly had not read the instructions on his Men’s Grecian Formula bottle, now chimed in, “Dear, never say you’re sorry for anything.  Everything in life has a purpose.  Even whacking Fred on the head.  Like Ron said, it woke him up.”

We all chuckled, and I ended up joining them for a beer and popcorn.

I don’t know if it was the beer or a divine thought-delivering moment, but I did ask Gill the purpose his hair color.  His friends howled and shared they had been trying to get him to stop such silliness for years.  Now that a woman told him, perhaps he would finally do it.  It was a wonderful hour of discussion.  The 45-year-old crowd will never know what they missed.

Afterwards, I couldn’t help but think about why my fellow womankind continues saying, “I’m sorry” on the tennis court all the time.  What need do the women have?  Did they want an “it’s okay, you hit the ball in the net, I do it too”?  Is my response “Don’t say you’re sorry ….” completely missing the mark?  Am I supposed to identify with my partner’s plight?

Of course, when I call a company with a customer service problem, I want to hear “I’m sorry that happened to you Mrs. Meredith … I understand your coffee-maker blew up and you are having guests over tomorrow night.  This situation must be frustrating for you.  Let’s see what we can do to make sure that you’re taken care of for your dinner party …”.  That emotional connection is critical for me when I am talking to any customer service agent.  I do not want a robot, and I don’t want a customer service agent reading from a script.  Feel my panic – I’ve got company tomorrow, they LOVE coffee, and I cannot disappointment them!

So much of the customer experience is tied up in the emotional dynamic.  That’s because a person’s decision to become loyal to a company, product or brand is almost always an emotional one.  When we experience great customer service or a great customer experience, it makes us FEEL something that compels us to want to go back to that company, product or brand in the future.  Not only that, we usually then actively promote that company, product or brand, since we want others to experience the same feeling we did.  Discussions with friends, family, colleagues at the office, etc. plant seeds in the minds of the people we communicate to and with about our great customer experience.

I guess some women want that emotional connection on the tennis court too.  Maybe I am the odd ball or maybe not.  Either way, I am still on my quest to not be embarrassing and to improve my tennis game.  Gill and Ron even invited me to sub into their group, and I’m giving it serious consideration!  You betcha these gentlemen have the tennis moves, and best of all … you’ll never hear an “I’m sorry” spoken on their court.




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About Laura Meredith

Laura Meredith is the Director of Public Relations at Pretium.

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