The Dallas Cowboys Create a New Service Playbook

Customer Service
Customer Service
When Cowboys Stadium opened last year, the NFL team needed a service strategy as exceptional as the state-of-the art building. The organization built a service game-plan that scores with fans.

The NFL saw its third largest stadium open last year when the Dallas Cowboys debuted Cowboys Stadium-a $1.3 billion, 80,000 seat facility. With a state-of-the-art stadium, fans will expect service to match.

To meet fans' expectations, the Dallas Cowboys have assembled new training, communications, and leadership development programs to elevate service at Cowboys' home games, as well as at concerts and other events. With a seasonal staff of 1,200 personnel, including security, ushers, ticket takers, and concierge staff, that feat comes with some challenges. Here, Paul Turner, director of event operations at the Dallas Cowboys, discusses his approach to implementing a service strategy that will win over fans.

What was the impetus for the new strategy?

It all took place in 2008 when we were planning on opening Cowboys Stadium on June 6, 2009. The concept was different than any other stadiums out there. We wanted to deliver a different kind of experience than [we did] in Texas Stadium. The vision came from the owners. They wanted a place where guests would feel welcome.

Our senior vice president of sales and booking said, "We have no real concept of how to make this thing feel. How are we going toshape this experience?" That's where I came in. I was in charge of how to create that. I set out to figure out how we were going to pull this off and bring the building to life on game day and how to have the same "wow" factor as the building, and to create a service environment where people will feel cared for.

I was brought on to run the public service side of the organization. The daunting task was how to find these people and focus them the right wayso that the execution would be consistent. I spent a lot of time during the year leading up to the opening getting to know our organization because we needed to know ourselves, as well as our customers.

How did you instill the heightened service expectations?
I first started talking to the senior executives to make sure I understood their vision. I asked them to describe how they wanted the fans to experience game day. They were informal conversations. Aside from finding out what they wanted, I was really learning the core values of the organization. I wanted to find out what's important to us as an organization. The result of that was a serious mission statement. It's important to start with that. It serves as the foundation of everything we built and our service workforce can identify with it. The service mission statement simply says, "We are service professionals at the world's finest venue, creating exceptional experiences for our guests in a safe, clean, and friendly environment."

My experience in working in an NHL environment is you have to paint a picture with a broad brush. If [employees] can understand our mission and values, we will be doing the right thing. We have infrequent contact with our labor force so we have to pick our messages carefully to make sure we have the greatest impact.

I also developed the "Cowboys' 5 Points"-Integrity, Respect, Teamwork, Commitment, and Excellence-and I arranged these terms on each point of the Cowboys' star. It's not just a gimmick; the symbolism is important and the terms are all equally balanced. We talk about how these principles are the same if you're an usher or a wide receiver. Our fans have paid thousands to be here. Mr. [Jerry] Jones on game day turns the experience over to a $9 an hour employee and says, "You have to make good on this promise to the customer."

How do you evangelize the concept of the new program?

We have an orientation program-a lecture that they sit through and we talk about the three components to [the service strategy]. It's a great building, and we discuss why it's a unique venue and talk about all the people it takes to create this wonderful environment. Then we take that mission statement and break it down. A lot of the language in the statement is deconstructed for them. It's about creating exceptional experiences for guests in a safe, clean, and friendly environment. Then we go through the Cowboys' 5 Points. We let them know that we expect the service level to work from them.

We have a broad range of people who come to this environment and the paycheck isn't the driving force. They may be juggling two or three jobs. We are trying to elevate that workforce by telling them they are professionals, whether they're flagging cars or serving the most valued suite owners. We use that to govern their behavior.

After the classroom portion, we take them on a tour of the stadium. Not to orient them, but so they can get the "wow" factor and get to see things they normally wouldn't see, like the club areas. After that they receive blue star training recognition and are awarded a blue star pin. It's recognition of their achievement and service. Then, depending on their performance, they graduate to a silver star and then they're eligible for gold star. That means they're at the top of their workforce. We're really trying to create a relationship with the workforce. We want them to be part of our legacy.

When did this new strategy start to take place?

We achieved more than what we expected in some ways. When we opened the building, we had two more months of construction to go. We weren't able to do training until two days prior to the first event-a George Straight concert. There were a lot of things we couldn't anticipate. Based on focus groups we held with ticket holders afterward, they were by and large pleased.

How do you plant to grow this strategy?

Next we're working with LRA Worldwide to build out a concept for a leadership academy. It's a program to train supervisors and create high-quality supervision and motivational leadership.

I did work with the service reps in the premium areas on the skills involved with relationship building. I'm committed to it and will develop it. I see this as being the gold standard. In our experiences the supervisory group is the linchpin for us. They're the ones making sure front-line staff members are on point. What's in it for them? They'll be some immediate things like they may get to watch part of the game.

It's not just about a football game on Sundays; it's really about creating a unique experience for our staff, as well. If we can create that culture or community then we'll really be onto something.