Elevating Customer Experience Through People at the OKC Thunder
Hosts: Steve Boese
Guest: Will Syring, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships
This week we visited the Paycom Center to meet with Will Syring of the OKC Thunder. We talked about the importance of creating a memorable customer experience and some ways they do this.
– Paycom, the OKC Thunder, and the importance of community partnerships
– Creating the vision for the best NBA fan experience
– Training employees with purpose and direction
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Welcome to At Work in America sponsored by Paychex. We welcome a wide and exceptionally impressive array of guests, business leaders, HR leaders, academics, practitioners, consultants and authors to talk about the most timely, relevant and challenging issues that are influencing the workplace today. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts, Steve Boese and Trish McFarlane Steed.
Welcome back to the HR Happy Hour Show. My name is Steve Boese. I am so excited for today’s show. Before we welcome our guest, a couple of quick notes for the audience. Actually, let’s welcome our guest first and then we’ll kind of do a little bit of explainer about what’s happening with the show our guest today and I’m so excited to have them. Will Syring is the Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the Oklahoma City Thunder, one of our great National Basketball Association teams. I’m a basketball junkie. It’s so exciting to have Will from the OKC Thunder here with us. Well how are you today?
Will Syring 1:35
Fantastic. We got another game day today. The Raptors are in town and it’s our Veterans Day game. So we’re excited to have some more basketball live at the Paycom Center in just a few hours and thank you to Steve and thank you to Paycom for allowing us the opportunity to to join the podcast today.
Yeah, thanks Will, and just for some background, folks may have seen some of this on our social or on our YouTube stuff we’ve been doing. We were so glad and excited to be welcomed out to Oklahoma City Thunder about a week or so ago by our friends at Paycom and our friends at the OKC Thunder. We were out on site. We shot some videos, we recorded a version of this podcast and I’ll explain why we are recording today. But we’re out there on a game night about 10 or so days ago when the Thunder defeated the Magic in a thrilling game, one of those classic NBA back and forth games, each team making runs. It’s under just put it on him in the fourth quarter and won the game. It was just a great, great night. We recorded with Will prior to that game. So we were talking all about, you know what’s it going to be like tonight the game experience, customer experience, etc. And then we ran into the classic glitch with the audio in post production and realized we really need to re-record. So Will was gracious enough to join us via zoom today.
It is Veterans Day. It’s November 11 as we record this, and thankfully though, in terms of some of the conversation we’ll have it is another game night, as Will mentioned. The OKC Thunder are home tonight to the Raptors, game nights a special night and now I can talk even more intelligently about what a special customer experience there is a game night of the Thunder game since I’ve been to the Thunder game and personnel but Will, thanks again for taking some time on again, what is I know a busy night for you and the team. First off, let’s start the way we did last time. Tell us a little bit about yourself your background, you’ve got a really interesting and fun background. I’d love to learn about it. And then then we’ll get into what you and the team do for the Thunder and for the community around the Thunder.
Will Syring 3:35
Absolutely. Again, thanks for having us on here. We’re excited to talk a little bit about how we think about the fan experience and in talking about the community and certainly how we work with our friends at Paycom. But a little bit of myself and background. I grew up in Wisconsin and grew up in a small farm town just outside of Madison, Stoughton, Wisconsin is where I’m from. And I think at an early age, I realized sports is a passion. And I didn’t really know that that sports could be a career, frankly. But I think also at an early age, I realized that I’m going to have to be off the court as a professional not on the court. And maybe that was when I peeked in eighth grade basketball in the 18 was all downhill after that. I went to school to d3 college just in the northwest part of the state. And they have a really cool International Business program that I took advantage of and actually went to Australia, my senior year of school and it’s it’s there that I kind of found an opportunity to work in sports. And so my first job in sports was working in Melbourne, Australia just outside of it actually kill site working for the Kilsyth Cobras and they’re a part of Siebel, which is the development league for the NBL your listeners may may know this, the NBL is has been a great feeder system for the NBA.
A lot of Australian players go through the ranks of the NBA in the recent past and even to that.
Will Syring 5:05
That’s right. And Josh Giddey went through that. He’s one of our players went through that development program. And so I worked in their development program called CBOE and you might laugh, but I was the game announcer. So, you know, I would play an intro theme and provide giveaways and was happy doing just that, and living in Australia. And I met somebody named Ben Turner, who was selling sponsorships. And I said, Well, what is that, and he taught me taught me the game. And so that was 13-14 years ago. And I haven’t stopped since. So I left Australia. And when my visa expired, and came back to the United States and worked for a company called Learfield sports, you might be familiar with that group.
You know, here’s the funny thing. I hadn’t heard about Learfield. And over the weekend, I was driving around in my car, and Sirius Satellite Radio and just bouncing from college football game to college football game, and I felt like every single game was were with badger football sponsored by Learfield or Buckeye football sponsored by. I don’t think I really knew about it much before.
Will Syring 6:15
Yeah, you know, they’re rights holder at schools. So they’re, a little bit behind the scenes, and they don’t lead with Learfield. They’re representing the schools. And so you probably don’t hear that much unless you’re listening on the radio, or they do call out their broadcast. But they’re a fantastic entity and a great way to those that are looking to get into sports to start with. They have a great sales training program as well. So I joined Learfield sports in 2010, and worked for TCU athletics, which is in Tulsa, just down the road from us and never been to Oklahoma before. And it really enjoyed my time there. And the Learfield model, if you’re doing we’re supposed to be doing they move yet to another school and a bigger school. So they moved me to Oregon State. I lived in Portland for a couple of years and represented Oregon State Athletics and beaver sports properties out there. And then the NBA reached out and they had an opportunity with the Chicago Bulls to lead their global sales enterprise. And it was a chance for me to get back to the Midwest and closer my family and, and always respect, obviously the Bulls and what they’ve created. And so I joined that.
They’ve already won six championships, right?
Will Syring 7:20
Yeah, that’s right. And, and so I worked for them for a little over five years and, and then had an opportunity where the Thunder had an opportunity to to lead the team as Vice President of Partnerships. And through a common connection there. And I always followed them. Because of my time in in Tulsa was I was frankly, selling against them, and had always respect their their business practices, their team, how they thought about the community. And so it was an opportunity where I felt like I had to be a part of that organization. And I got a chance to meet the chairman, Mr. Clay Bennett, Danny Bartha. Team, President Brian burns, the SVP of sales and marketing. And for the listeners that know any of those. They’re fantastic people, great business leaders, great community leaders. And so it’s an organization I felt like I wanted to be a part of, and I got incredibly lucky to get the opportunity in 2019 to be the corporate partnership vertical. So I’m going into my fourth season now with the team.
Great, Will, thanks for that background. And like you’re sort of done something that a lot of us who are sports junkies as well, I’d imagine going through, you know, school and high school, etc. Like, we once we realize our playing dreams are probably over right like I wanted, people always ask me what what do you want to do? What was your dream job, I always said the same thing I want to pitch for the Mets like that was my, if I could pick like the dream job, that would have been it for the longest time. And when that didn’t happen, I abandoned sports, I should have stuck with it right? Because I would still to this day love be working. I would love to be working and be associated with sports. And I guess I should have thought about it a little more broadly, like you did, right? You stayed involved in sports, even after you realize, okay, I’m probably not going to be you know, starting power forward for you know, the Chicago Bulls.
Will Syring 9:10
Right, right. That’s exactly right, you’re on you’re running podcast. That’s not a bad gig either.
And I’m wearing for a while we’re doing this as an audio product. I’m wearing my Thunder shirt that I bought prior to the Thunder game that I attended last week. And we’re going to talk about the the game experience in a second. But the other thing I wanted to mention well is we mentioned our friends at Paycom and kind of made this connection possible between us folks at HR Happy Hour and the great folks at the Thunder who we got to meet. I’d love for you to talk a bit about partnerships in general and how you guys approach partnerships, particularly I know there’s some there’s some real community minded approaches to working with partners that you and the team at the center are value and are important to you and are important to the funders role in the community as well. I’d love for you to talk a little bit about that.
Will Syring 9:58
Yeah, no, I appreciate that. And I would say first off, you know, we think of ourselves as more than a basketball team, you know, we almost have a responsibility to give back to the community. Because we are integrated in the community. And without the support of the community, our fans or ticket buyers, or buying merchandise buying concessions, we wouldn’t survive as a team. And so we do everything we can to give back and I think that that’s representative is in the partnerships that we have, and Paycom to speak to that Paycom has been with us. Since about 2017-18 season, their logo has been on the court had a co-branded terrace with us. And we really got to know them as people. They’re right in our backyard, we got to know their executive team or leadership team. And we really were excited about their vision forward, not only for themselves, but for the community as a whole that they worked within. And it really aligned with what our vision was for this community and this city in the state as a whole moving forward. And so when there was an opportunity that came up for naming rights and opportunity that doesn’t happen very often, you know, those deals are 15,20, 25 years, at times even longer, that it can be a really rare opportunity that they were, they were right at the top of our list to have a conversation with about naming rights. And we’re so thankful that that partnership came together, we’ve integrated with their business to are using their platform to integrate with our human capital needs. And they’ve been fantastic across the board. And we’re really excited about how they have aligned with our vision as this city continues to grow to as their business continues to grow.
Will Syring 11:35
So I couldn’t say anything but great things about that organization, that partnership that we have with Paycom. There are several other relationships we have to with partners, and you asked a question about how we we integrate community. And I’ll speak to a couple of articles that I think are important. Number one, we are trying to help the youth here in Oklahoma that could be through youth education platforms, it could be workforce development platforms, it could be increasing readership in this community and literacy. When we got here in 2008, we quickly identified a couple of areas that we think we can make, move the needle, and regarding readership and partnership, we have a really cool book bus campaign that goes around with American Fidelity that’s sponsored by our friends at Fidelity there. And we have given to date 200,000 books out to kids throughout.
Yeah, that’s incredible.
Will Syring 12:00
It’s actually a trailer now. We’ve expanded it. So it’s allows for more inclusivity we can go to more cities in the state well, that goes all around.And we track the success of that program that we know, you know, and for your listeners that certainly have children when you give them a book, and inspires creative thinking, and inspires them to learn. And we have found and we’ve tracked this that the readership and literacy of these kids that we’re going after our third or fourth graders, when they’re in their teens and older, their development is increased and their readership and their ability to process and learn information has really increased. So that’s a tactical program that we’re doing the community that we know helps benefit multiple people. And we couldn’t do that without the help of American Fidelity. The other thing that we do is, is growth of the game. So we want to make sure that people are playing basketball, people are living healthy lives, they’re making good choices. And so what we do is we have a co branded court concept where we go out throughout the state and Oklahoma City. And we are actually co-branding these basketball courts. And we have several partnerships. And we just did our 30th court with Devon Energy, just right here it says a tale park outside my window that I’m looking at at the moment. And that’s a really cool opportunity that allows kids to play the game that may not have access to a cord. And we’re going to continue to expand that with several other partners in the near term. And the third thing I’ll say, is related to how we integrate players in the community. The players are we’re big biggest megaphones that we have and they’re extremely popular throughout this community. And so we bring them out to as many places as we can. We did a surprise and delight but Love’s Travel Stops where they gave out free gas at a local Love’s gas station just a few weeks back.
Love’s is another important partner for the team right? Love’s is the jersey patch, right for the OKC Thunder has been for a couple seasons now.
Will Syring 14:22
Yep. They started that relationship, the 2018-19 season, as well, but they’ve been with us since the beginning. I mean, they’re one of the handful of partners that has been with us since we moved the team in 2008-2009. And so that relationship has grown over time as well. But in the chat homegrown examples, a great one where they we brought him and Mike Muscala out to Children’s Hospital, with our partnership with IU Health where they’re making these kids smile by just showing up. When you go to a children’s hospital, there are some there are some really tough times that are happening for these families and it brought it’s an opportunity for them smile for a moment. And so we bring our players out as much as we can we have a partnership with Homeland two coming up where we do a turkey giveaway.
Yeah, holidays are coming up as we record this Thanksgiving is in a couple of weeks, of course, Christmas holidays, etcetera. Like, that’s always a time where you do like to see, you know, those high profile, I guess I call them even role models, that’s fair to say like they can be right the the athletes in a community, getting them out there showing them sort of giving back, it’s an important thing. And it does send a message to both the players themselves about how important this is their importance in the community, and to the community as well, like how much the team values kind of the community that they’re a part of, right?
Will Syring 15:43
Without a doubt. Yeah, it’s a core tenet of the team. Yeah, to make it and these players want to be there. I mean, that’s the beautiful thing is we, we’ve got a great group that wants to be involved in community they want to get back. And it’s frequently through through storytelling along with partners, as well as those that have highlighted with it. So you help America Fidelity, Paycom, Love’s and others that are so involved in what we do that they we’d like to align with like minded companies that want to get back to the community. Employers are frequently a part of that story.
Yeah, I love that. And that’s kind of something even our small little what we do here at the podcast, we think about tremendously. And one of the reasons we’ve worked, I think really well with Paycom over the years, right? One of the things I’m constantly excited about and sort of proud of our relationship with them is they’re always, every single day, it seems like they’re out there in the community as well giving back and raising funds or doing volunteer work or sponsoring runs that raise money for charity, et cetera, et cetera. So I can see how with the ethos that you and the team at the center have and their ethos, so that’s a really successful partnership as well, because I think you’re very like minded. Right? It seems like and how you think about that kind of stuff?
Will Syring 16:53
Well, let’s talk about one other thing real quick, which is I know it’s game day. And it’s game day tonight. And last time I was at at OKC. And got to meet well, many other folks at the Thunder, it was game night, we got to go to a game, graciously thanks to our friends at Paycom and the OKC Thunder, I’m not gonna lie, I had the best seats I’ve ever had for any professional sporting event, for sure, which was really, really exciting and fun. But we had a wonderful experience at the game. And not just because the Thunder won the game, which they did. And it was a really exciting game, just the game product was fantastic. But one thing we learned when we were out at the OKC Thunder that day, and I did the math wrong a couple of times, I’m gonna do the math correctly today that about 1% of the people involved in presenting the Thunder Game Night Experience. 1% of those people are the players on the court, the other 99% or everybody who’s off the court, many are at the arena, and you’re interacting with during the course of the game and experience. And some are, you know, definitely behind the scenes. But well, I meant you mentioned human capital and you work with Paycom to sort of support the human capital needs of the thunder, I’d love for you to talk a little bit about kind of whether it’s you and the team, the partnerships team, or more broadly, the organization thinks about delivering that great experience both on and off the court, maybe let’s talk with more off the court because I don’t know, we could talk about X’s and O’s on the court. I don’t think anybody really wants to hear our analysis of you know, the pick and roll defense maybe, but maybe talk about how you guys approach delivering that great fan experience to everyone who comes out to a thunder game, including the folks who will be out there tonight.
Will Syring 18:32
Yep, that’s a great question. Steve. Look, I we work in a really unique business where we don’t necessarily control the product that we deliver, which is we don’t know what the end result of the game was right? You didn’t know what was going to happen, walk into the game that you did the other day. And that’s the beauty of what sports brings you it’s an unscripted moment. It’s an unscripted event that leads to an exhilarating result one way or the other. Yeah, and we don’t control what happens. But we do control and we influence how we treat the people that experience that product. So the people that are coming into our game from the second they think about buying a ticket, or that they’re watching the game on the TV, and they never watch, they never come to a game. Or they do come to a game and they’re thinking about parking, and they’re gonna get in and they’re gonna think about entry protocols, and they’re gonna come in and where do I go to get my favorite hot dog? Where do I go get my, my gear? How do I find my seat, right? So every single decision that you’re making as a fan we’re thinking about, and then we’re putting a position, a person there that can help that process, be as frictionless as seamless as possible. And so you talk about the 1% I don’t know if that’s the real math, but
I’ve had a week to figure it out. And I think I did it right. So I was trying to union 15 players and 1500 people associated probably
Will Syring 19:53
Yeah, so yeah. So like I wasn’t a math major in college. So maybe we’ve got 1500 people to your point that put on a put on our show, if you will. And that’s the person that’s checking the ticket. That’s the security attendant. That’s the person that’s helping the park. That’s the person that’s cooking that hot dog. That’s the person that’s selling you that T shirt. And all of those roles that I just mentioned, aren’t necessarily Thunder employees, there’s third parties, there’s ASM manages the building, they saver and Levy and legends. Those are groups that manage our concessionaire programs and merchandising rights. The fan doesn’t know that when you’re walking around Steve, and you’re at the game, you just know that you think that’s a Thunder employee, you just think that’s right. So what we do is, is a club is we intentionally train every single person that on a set of principles, and it’s called our click training. It’s our click program. And you got to give credit to late Pete Winemiller for developing this program, which is actually a best in class throughout the NBA. And we give away each year the Pete Winemiller Guest Services award through the league lens. And so the Thunder are recognized as the best in the NBA in terms of guest experience. So one way to think about this, Steve is you might be familiar with the NPS score and net promoter. Sure, yeah. And we benchmark ourselves not against other NBA teams, but against other organizations that have high NPS scores.
Will Syring 21:24
So these are organizations like Paycom that have very high NPS scores, or Google has very high NPS score companies that you know, and trust in, you’re gonna get the result that you’re looking for when you integrate with them, right. So we benchmark against those really, really high scores. So we’ve created this program called click training, and it’s an acronym, it stands for communicate courteously, listen to learn, initiate, immediately, create connections and know your stuff. That acronym is something that we teach every single frontline worker to communicate courtesy when they’re talking to somebody to listen, when someone has a challenge to initiate immediately, if we’re trying to solve somebody maybe spilled something on the concourse, they’re gonna they’re gonna help clean that up, immediately create connections, you know, be authentic, look them in the eye, shake their hand, welcome them know who they are, if they come to a lot of games. Yeah, and you know, your stuff. So someone’s asking a question, you know, where is section 110? And how do I get to my seat? We should know that. And everybody does. And so that’s a part of the training, enjoyed our leads, that group has done a fantastic job with us. Leading that but that vertical and guest services in it all rose up to our chairman, Mr. Clay Bennett and Danny Barth, our team president that when this organization became the thunder, we wanted to lead with respect as our tenant principle, and make sure that we were the most fan centric organization in pro sports, and I think we live and breathe that every day.
Yeah, well, thank you for some of that background and the click training. And specifically, we did some we shot some video when we were out at the Thunder. And one of the videos I did was with Caleb Miller, who’s part of that team that helps take people through that click training. So make sure to direct folks to check that out. It’s about five or seven minutes, we talk with Caleb a little bit more in detail about just that mindset, that customer service mindset, that training development, that certification process, and just and more broadly, look, most of the people listening to this are not involved in professional sports, but you are involved in serving customers, right and creating great experiences for customers at all kinds of levels. And some of them could even be internal customers, right? If you’re an HR person, listen to this. But that mindset that the thunder take their mindset, the approach, the structured nature of it, and then measuring the outcomes specifically, is just it’s great to learn from and there are lessons that can be applied to all kinds of businesses by all kinds of organizations. So I’d encourage folks to check out some of that as well. Well, last thing I know it’s game night, I don’t want to keep you any any longer. So we have especially since it’s the second time we’ve dragged you away from what you’re doing to sit down with us. But I’m I said I’m a basketball junkie. You’re a sports guy your whole life as well. Obviously, it’s so exciting for you to be working right there with the funder. Let’s talk a little bit of basketball. I love this young team. I love that we went to the game. That center so days ago, Bray exciting game against another exciting young team, the Thunder came out ahead. The future looks really bright for this team. A lot of young talent, a lot of exciting players. How are people feeling about the trajectory of the team? Especially once maybe a couple of the injured guys get back on the court?
Will Syring 24:36
Yeah, absolutely. Look, I don’t think we you can’t script the product, right? You don’t know where that’s the beauty of what we do. That’s what we represent. But we are thrilled of where we are as an organization where we are as a team. All credit to Sam and his group. Again, I have nothing to do with the operations.
So I shouldn’t ask you for any opinions like timeout strategy or none of that?
Will Syring 25:02
It’s really, really exciting to be a part of an of a team that thinks long term. And that core development is at the root of everything that we do. So yeah, we’re excited about where we are and where we’re going. And no idea where we’re going to end up getting the game and making predictions that just excited that we’re playing basketball and arena with fans. And everybody I talked to everybody we come across, is excited to be inside the venue and watching this young team grow and develop. And it’s just been really exciting to see the growth, since I’ve got here in 2018. And they’ve had an incredible run prior to that. And as Sam would say, We’re climbing the second mountain to get right back to where we want to be. Because you know, when when that time comes, we’re going to be arriving, not just showing up to see would say, into the playoffs. So we are excited about where we are. We’ve got a really, really young group is you shared, I think we are the second youngest team in the NBA.
For sure. It’s shocking when you see some of these players out there performing on such a high level and think, Oh, that guy’s 19, that guy’s 20. It’s remarkable for some of these young, young players.
Will Syring 26:10
But they’re so professional, they’re so dedicated to their craft, and they are great people. Yeah, and that represents who we are as an organization, it always comes down to people, or people first organization. And that’s how we think about our players too. So we’re just excited to see where we go from here. And we’ll be there every single night with our partners and cheering them on.
Amen to that. I’m gonna tell you where I’m a Knicks fan, longtime. I grew up in the New Jersey, New York City area. The Knicks are always probably going to be terrible. So my new my second team, if you will, is the Thunder. And I’ve been to a lot of games, I’ve been a lot of NBA games, I’ve been in a lot of sporting events, right, I’ve been lucky to get to a lot of really cool things. I have never had a better experience ever at a sporting event than I had at the Thunder game a week or so ago. Not only from just the experience of working with our friends at the center, like well, and our friends at Paycom will help make it a great experience. But literally from the first person we encountered, which was the woman in the in the team store who literally took us around the store to help us find the kinds of things we wanted to the the folks working at the parking deck because I didn’t know where I was going right. I was like am I in the right place? And he was so nice to like, tell us Yeah, you’re fine. Go park here.
Literally right after we walked in a gentleman wanted to be sure we knew where we were going. A gentleman in a jacket and tie with the badge on said, Hey, you guys, okay, do you need some help? Because we were I was doing that I don’t know where I’m at kind of look right in the concourse. And he literally came up to help us so and on and on all the way through. I’ve never had a better experience at a sporting event than on your game. And it’s a testament to the ethos, that commitment from that goes from the top all the way down through all the teams that we met with the events team, the customer service teams, the training teams, wills team, the partnership teams, everybody also, all thank you well, because I’m talking to you, but it’s a thanks, really to everybody at the center and just to kudos for what you guys do.
Will Syring 28:09
Well appreciate those kind words. And again, it’s an entire team it takes to develop a feedback like that and to make sure we’re consistent every single night. So we’re glad you had a good time and welcome back anytime, Steve.
Awesome. I can’t wait to come back to Oklahoma City. Can’t wait to see another center game. We’ll see you’re in Oklahoma City Center. Thanks so much. Good luck tonight. Get back out there. Hope you have a fun night tonight. I’ll be watching.
Will Syring 28:29
All right. Sounds good. Thunder up.
All right, Thunder up. Thanks so much. Well, thanks so much our friends at Paycom as well for making this all possible. And thanks everybody for listening. We will put all the Thunder content together on the website. You can find it all in one place. Thanks again. My name is Steve Boese, check out all the show archives at HRHappyHour.net. We will see you next time and bye for now.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai