Sportsbooks Need To Step Up Their Customer Service Game

Having a strong customer service arm can go a long way in a hyper-competitive industry
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When a consumer has numerous options for a very similar product – especially one that’s being offered online only and geography doesn’t come into play – there are really only two key differentiators: price and customer experience.

And when it comes to sports betting, price rarely filters into the conversation for the vast majority of bettors. Sure, there are the pros and sharps who have 20-odd sportsbook apps downloaded on their phones and spend a few minutes on various sites trying to find the best lines, but again: The vast majority of people who are betting aren’t price shopping to get that -107 line instead of -110.

Which brings us to customer experience. How easy is the site to navigate? How easy is it to place a wager? How easy is it to sign up? How easy is it to …

“Please hold for the next available representative” is what I heard in regular intervals when I called a sportsbook that will remain nameless. Why nameless? Because this isn’t about slamming individual sportsbooks when it comes to customer service, mostly because in my experience, they are all equally terrible in their own ways — except for DraftKings, which is pretty awesome, and which we’ll discuss in a moment. 

But yes: It was midday, midweek, and I wanted to reverse a casino bonus on my account so I could withdraw funds. And it took well over 30 minutes to even begin the process.

Let me tell you something: When I want my money, I don’t want to wait half a Succession episode to get someone on the phone.

For the record: While waiting on hold, I also went to the sportsbook’s live chat. They never got to me there. I kept the window open for over an hour before I gave up.

The Disney experience

My then-2-year-old daughter peed on me before the curtain opened on For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration at Hollywood Studios in Disney World. She was sitting on my lap, fidgeting with her diaper, and next thing you know, she was peeing on me. She is my third kid and this wasn’t the first time I’d been peed on. Not a big deal — I was wholly unperturbed by the situation.

What I did do, however, was straight out of Dad 101: I passed her off to my wife, who was sitting at the end of the row, in between were our other children. I asked my wife for some wipes so I could at least half-heartedly clean both myself and the seat my daughter soiled.

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said a Disney employee standing behind me. She was middle-aged, wearing a uniform, and clearly there to help people find their seats.

I stammered out something like, “Well, I have to,” and she just waved me off, saying it happens all the time and she’ll make sure it gets cleaned, etc.

And that was that. I moved over one seat, the show started, and I was just happy to be sitting in an air-conditioned theater in Orlando in August, never mind the pee. Ten minutes later, my wife gets my attention. Another Disney employee is speaking with her. I’m being asked what my size is. I legitimately have zero idea what’s happening. I respond, “Medium? Large? I don’t know.”

Five minutes after that, the employee returned with a new pair of shorts for me, a new dress for my daughter, and a six-pack of kids’ underwear for my daughter “when she’s ready.” It was over $100 worth of merchandise. It wasn’t like Goofy peed on my leg. Disney Inc. had zero culpability here. They just saw one of their customers was unhappy, and they decided to fix it.

Later in that vacation, I told the story to a college-aged busboy at Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe – I’m a talker, whaddya want – and he told me even he is allowed to “make things right” as he sees fit, up to a point.

“If I see someone with a frown, I’m allowed to give them a free dessert,” he told me.

DraftKings does it right

“When we think about customer experience, we strive to be customer-centric in everything we do. Products, service, operation, you name it, we want to put the customer at the center of everything,” Shawn Henley, the senior VP of customer experience at DraftKings, told me. “We’re really obsessed with providing that fantastic customer experience.”

Now before you go and roll your eyes and tell me I’m a shill for DraftKings, know this: I’m not alone in my thoughts about them being the only company in the space doing it right. I posted a question in the sports betting channel of our company’s Slack, asking people who they thought provided good customer service. Everyone who answered said the same thing: DraftKings was leaps and bounds ahead of the field. Other sportsbook customer service operations were called “useless,” “the worst,” and “woefully bad.”

One of the biggest differences I’ve found between DraftKings and the rest of the sportsbooks is that the customer service reps at DraftKings actually know sports betting (and DFS) and thus can intelligently handle complaints and issues — unlike one of their competitors, to whom I had to explain what “shorter” odds meant.

Additionally – and importantly – DraftKings, much like Disney, allows lower-level members of the team leeway in making decisions. I can’t tell you how many times I was owed a free bet or $5 in bonus money only to have to deal with numerous emails, chats, and/or phone calls to make things right. With DraftKings, when it’s brought to their attention, it’s taken care of immediately.

We empower our associates to take care of the customer and do what’s right with the focus of making sure they have an awesome, second-to-none customer experience,” Henley said. “For us, we want to be as fast as possible. We know when you have to reach out for help, it’s not what you wanted to do, so we try to get back to you as soon as possible. I know much of our competition says ‘up to 48 hours.’ That’s unacceptable. We would never strive for that.”

Call to arms

All right, so if this isn’t a big ol’ back scratch for DraftKings, what is it?

It’s a call to all the other sportsbooks to get their customer service arm up to snuff. Not everyone has to be Disney, but having customers wait 48 hours for a response; or to not be able to manually adjust a $5 free bet; or to not know what “odds shorter than” means; or to waive off a request to know where, exactly, a customer’s money is … really, really bad.

While all the other operators continue to fall over each other with sign-up bonus and promo money – and don’t stop, it’s fine – by not having a robust customer service operation, they are shooting themselves in the foot (and us in our metaphorically pee-stained shorts). All it takes is one bad experience to sour someone. And when most people aren’t shopping for the ultimate best price, relationship management sure does seem like the likely place to concentrate on when it comes to customer satisfaction and retention.

We’re all human, and we all understand things go sideways sometimes. And while it’s great for a company to proactively fix situations as they arise, it’s practically mandatory that situations get addressed when they get brought up. And telling a customer no, we can’t help you, or no, check back in two days, or no, we’re closed right now — well, that’s one surefire way to make sure those customers don’t come back.

Sportsbooks need to step up their game, and it wouldn’t shock me one bit to see the eventual winners in this space looking a lot like Disney when it comes to customer service.

Photo: Shutterstock

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