• UNCONVENTIONAL WISDOM:

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

CUSTOMER SERVICE

When necessary changes were made to the media credentialing process for the Checker Auto Parts 500k, Phoenix International Raceway's communications manager Tami Nealy (above) did just that -- COMMUNICATE! An E-mail explaining the new process was sent to the media weeks before the race and there were lots of signs to direct journalists to the right place and remind photographers of photo meetings. Well done. Also, PIR announced it will join with Phoenix native J.J. Yeley for a golf tournament March 8, to benefit the Phoenix Children’s Hospital.


Let me let you in on a secret: Even though I've known and liked Richard Childress since the mid-1970s, and have long respected Jeff Burton's common-sense professionalism, I'm not troubled their team won't win the Nextel Cup championship.

Why? The answer can be found in the legendary loyalty of NASCAR fans to companies that support their favorite sport. Actually, in my case, it's the REVERSE of that marketing fact.

Cingular, sponsor of the Childress-Burton No. 31 Chevrolet, is my wireless provider. More accurately, sometimes provider. I used to be with AT&T, whose wireless business was bought by Cingular. Under AT&T, the strength and quality of the cell signal to my residence wasn't great, but it usually worked. Since the buyout, it has been no Cingular Sensation, with many multiples of "Call Failed" messages vs. successful connections. Those that go through result in more cut-outs than created by kindergartners with construction paper. Incoming calls almost never make the phone ring, but rather, go straight into voice mail.

My repeated communications to Cingular's so-called "customer service" department have gone unanswered. Cingular has shown me zip, ZERO consideration . . . but has no problem sending a bill every month.

Customer service has gone to hell in this country, and sad to say, that includes in the motorsports industry. As I've previously written, way too many so-called "PR" people -- and I mean from MAJOR teams, sponsors, tracks and sanctioning groups -- apparently don't comprehend that the media are effectively their "customers" and act accordingly. I continue to find it incredible that so many don't even know common courtesy demands that voice messages and E-mails MUST be answered.

I have the great honor of administering the process of selecting the Jim Chapman Award recipient, for excellence in motorsports public relations. (The 2006 winner will be announced January 13 at the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association's All-America Team dinner at the Hyatt in downtown Indianapolis.) I'm biased because Jim was my best friend, but like Jim's close friend Babe Ruth, Chapman remains a legend. While Jim was THE consummate professional, and a true gentleman, he also called 'em like he saw 'em and that was another reason he was so widely respected.

It is in that spirit that I tell you I've had enough. It's time to go on-the-record about good and bad customer service.

+ NASCAR's "hot" garage passes are limited in number, but transferrable. Some track publicists have discovered local newspapers and TV stations send different photographers or camerapersons on different days, meaning these precious pieces of paper get wasted when taken home by media not returning the next day. To address this issue, Phoenix International Raceway's Tami Nealy put a new system in place for last weekend's Checker Auto Parts 500k, where newspeople would pick up and return "hot" passes in the infield media center. Realizing change from established procedure could be confusing, Nealy E-mailed notice of the new process well in advance, and posted plenty of signs directing journos to the pick-up point. It seemed to me to work without difficulty, mainly because Tami remembered a basic part of her job: She COMMUNICATED!

+ In my capacity as a co-chair of the AARWBA dinner, I recently asked Don Schumacher Racing Senior Vice President Mike Lewis for the three-time Top Fuel champion Army dragster to be displayed at this event. Mike responded immediately, he followed-up with the Hyatt, and all was set within a few days. Proving, again, that a CHAMPIONSHIP organization performs away from, as well as at, the track.

- One might think DIRT Motorsports would be interested in building its relationship with the media, especially for its World of Outlaws series, given the split in sprint car racing. Following that logic, last month, I wrote DIRT PR VP Chris Dolack about AARWBA. I'm still waiting for the courtesy of a reply . . . .

- At the start of every season, I automatically receive in the mail the media guides for NASCAR's Nextel Cup, Busch and Craftsman Truck series; also those of NHRA, Champ Car, ALMS and Grand American Road Racing. The one exception among the "big-time" organizations? IRL. Of course, I've only been working in Indy-type racing since the 1970s, and am member No. 1,000 in the Indianapolis 500 Oldtimers. A small, but telling, example of why things are the way they are in open-wheel . . .

Since this lack of customer service is the hottest of hot-button issues to me, I'll have more to say next week . . .The most disappointing thing I saw at Phoenix was actually something I didn't see -- and you probably overlooked: Somehow, on Veterans' Day weekend, the No. 01 Chevrolet ran without its usual Army ID and colors. A sad bit of sponsorship scheduling. I'm glad Tony Schumacher came through with his third consecutive NHRA Top Fuel championship in the Army dragster at Pomona. Once again, however, NHRA.com suffered from an apparent lack of server capacity. As fans -- lacking "live" TV coverage -- tried to find out who won the Top Fuel, Funny Car and Pro Stock Motorcycle championships, the home page continually failed to display.


[ more Blogging the Chase next Tuesday . . . ]