2017—The Racecourse Year of Service

This year, the RCA has been exploring customer service and what it takes to ensure an exceptional customer service programme. The approach is not training so much as education – knowing how to think, rather than being told what to do.

We have compiled best practice from within the sport and looked far and wide into the leisure and retail world to find what is truly the cream of customer service.

The Doncaster Meerkats at work

Learnings and theory

We start with Danny Meyer, CEO of the Union Square Hospitality Group, and his differentiation between service and hospitality – service meaning the delivery of a product, and hospitality meaning how that delivery makes the guest feel. It takes both at an outstanding level to be the best.

Service elements are covered well across racecourses: manuals cover operations, legal practice and health and safety. A few take it to the next level by covering staff behaviour and culture. One or two fully encorpate hospitality, balancing the rules and regulations with those all important values and purpose (it’s not so much what we do as why we do it).

Customer loyalty depends on it. 96% of consumers will remain loyal to an organisation when service standards are rated excellent but only 66% will if standards are good, according to The Institute of Customer Service.

There are four levels to improving a customer’s emotions and mood:

  • Meet functional needs
  • Meet emotional needs
  • Provide a life changing experience
  • Provide the chance for social impact

MACCHI-ART at Nissan Crossing, Tokyo

The first level needs to be met before you can move onto the next one – for example, for an emotional need such as attractive environment to be met, functional needs such as effective signage must be fulfilled.

Take the example of MACCHI-ART at the Nissan Crossing, Tokyo. However innovative this is, the coffee must be good, easy to purchase and look appealing in the first instance if a customer is ever going to drink it and have this mood-changing experience.

There is an alternative approach to this theory:

  • Meet customer expectations
  • Meet their desires
  • Meet unrecognised needs

Fulfilling unrecognised needs is difficult because, naturally, they are rarely spoken about or acknowledged – but getting this right creates the ultimate WOW moments. They come from truly knowing the customer and being able to measure and target the feelings that drive their behaviour.


Bath winning Outstanding Customer Service Award at Showcase 2016


A great example of this from our own turf is the Bath Racecourse team’s winning the Customer Service Award from Showcase 2016, where they were able to deliver a first-class experience to a customer by understanding his requirements (a charity drive) but tailoring the outcome to reach the highest social impact with personalised collection buckets (which were the unspoken requirements) and subsequently making his day.

Any approach to customer service can only begin in one place, however, and that is employee satisfaction. The Service-Profit Chain theory, which first appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1994, suggests an essential connection between profit and internal service quality. Or, as Richard Branson puts it, ‘learn to look after your staff first and the rest will follow’.


York’s annual tea welcomes permanent and seasonal staff at the end of the season


First brought to the attention of Showcase in 2012, York’s end of season tea party remains a brilliant way to thank staff for their hard work over the season whether they are permanent members of the team or temporary staff.

People are driven by beliefs – our sense of purpose. This is taken a step further in Japan, with their impeccable standard of service ‘Omotenashi’. Equally, the value ‘Ho’okipa’ in Hawaii epitomises excellent customer service.

When staff are fundamentally motivated by the purpose and values of their organisation and have the opportunity to assist customers in fulfilling their needs, the enthusiasm is infectious, and it is invaluable. It would be brilliant to think racing could develop its own standard in homage to Omotenashi or Ho’okipa!


Omotenashi being practiced at Isetan Department Store, Tokyo

‘We stand on the brink of a technological revolution… In its scale, scope, and complexity, the transformation will be unlike anything humankind has experienced before.’

The World Economic Forum
Technological revolution

In our lifetimes, we’ve witnessed the transformation of the third industrial revolution – the digital revolution – and the oncoming fourth industrial revolution is set to build on it by blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological.

80% of brands expect to be using chatbots by 2020, according to a study by Oracle. Facebook is developing chatbots that reason like a human – meaning it could arrange a time and venue for your next catch up with friends (and they wouldn’t have to know it’s not you).

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines have been working with an AI startup to help manage customer interactions and, wanting to meet customers in a space where they spend most of their time (on their mobiles), they were the first airline to let customers receive boarding passes and flight confirmations using Facebook Messenger.


The KLM UK chatbot


‘Pepper’ has been designed to read emotions

PwC measured opinions about digital assistants earlier this year and the research has shown that digital assistants will be thought of as a teacher, colleague, manager or even friend. Could an assistant like Pepper (shown to the right) soon be welcoming racegoers to your venue?!

Wearable technology, seen by many with the iWatch or FitBit, is gaining intelligence. For example, Carnival Cruises introduced their Ocean Medallion, a wearable, personalised and seamless concierge service. The multi-functional device – key, entertainment, wayfinder – means staff know your name and preferences before you walk into a room. Moreover, it makes cash payments quite simply Jurassic.


Supershop, Starfield Hanam


March 2017 saw 442.5 million contactless transactions – an increase of 146.3% over the previous year – according to the UK Cards Association. Payment continues to evolve, as Waitrose and Tossed opened cashless stores and Starbucks offered mobile order and pay. Yet Amazon went further to try remove that pain point altogether, and the Amazon Go checkout-less store is planned to launch this year.

What next?

In the autumn of 2017, a masterclass will be held to bring the learnings of Year of Service to racecourses. This will be split into a north and south session to allow for as many delegates as possible to attend.

In spring 2018, we will host a second masterclass given the depth of information collated.

We look forward to welcoming delegates later this year.

Omotenashi awaits!