How the Replacements Hurt Your Business

The NFL’s 2012 Season will go down in the minds of football fans and sports commentators everywhere as the year that was put into jeopardy by the replacement refs.

We won’t know for sure the full extent of the damage that was done during the lockout to teams like the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers until this season is over and the full record can be examined. For now, sports commentators can only speculate the outcome. However, in the minds of the coaches, players and fans, this season has a black mark on its beginning and, at best, a question mark on its conclusion.

No need to go into a play-by-play of the most unbelievable calls, by now it’s likely you have heard quite a bit even if you don’t follow football. But before you think about moving on, there is a lesson to you and your business that you should take from this situation:

NEVER provide a temporary resolution to a chronic problem.

Substituting real answers with band-aid solutions won’t fool your customers into thinking you’ve got it all together. Even when confronted by customers’ frustration and negative feedback, substituted solutions are just as damaging as attempts to ignore the problem. One could argue that it would’ve been better for the NFL to have delayed the start of the season rather than providing an inferior product (i.e. replacement officials). But time costs money, so they chose to proceed with almost as good, rather than to give the officials what they were asking for and make the fans happy by starting on time and with the full and unaltered production.

You can see how it would’ve been a difficult decision in choosing which way was the most cost-effective for their business. Your business in a similar situation might be tempted to offer replacements as well. OR your business might be tempted to get side-tracked on other issues, rather than focusing your efforts on fixing the major obstacle in your way. Regardless of what you decide to do in the face of a tough situation, any move other than a swift and effective resolution to the problem WILL result in disaster for your business. The questions then will just be for how long will you be paying the consequences and how much will it eventually cost you? Your temporary solution has the potential to cost you abundantly more than the inevitable resolution.

You may have built a great business that offers a valuable product or service. Your customers may be loyal to your brand, having had good interactions with you in the past. You may have built a solid reputation. BUT all it takes is one major problem, or even a minor issue that threatens to snowball into a real debacle that will put you on unstable ground.

Your customers will not be impressed with your attempts to distract them from the elephant in the room, which in the case of the NFL was their inability to put a real solution on the table that would provide their fans with both uninterrupted service as well as a consistently good product during the lockout. At the end of the Packers-Seahawks game (the game that will be considered as the climax to the replacement referee disaster), the NFL’s reputation for being an organization capable of delivering the type of pristine product they had provided in the past was under much scrutiny, jeopardizing a formerly immaculate reputation. Loyal NFL fans turned their televisions to commentary that was ripping both the NFL and Commissioner Goodell a new one. (Note here that most fans never remember the name of the NFL’s commissioner until an issue arises.) The past years of consistency were all but forgotten; the NFL had now failed to deliver what their customers had grown to expect from them.

Even now, with the lockout behind us and all the officials back on the field again, the NFL is still dealing with dissatisfaction in all corners. In spite of their players’ ability, during the lockout, to continue to play AMAZING football, there has been a shift in focus that has not yet fully recovered.

Even for those of you who aren’t football fans (shame on you, but still…), you should take this lesson and learn from it. Temporary solutions, distractions, and all attempts to down-play a known issue have the potential to:

  1. Damage your company’s long-standing reputation.
  2. Give your customers reason to doubt your abilities at resolving your own problems.
  3. Open the company up to scrutiny in all of its current or potential areas of weakness.

Luckily for the National Football League, even in a debacle as embarrassing as the replacements referees of 2012, they stand to lose less for this debacle than your business might in a similar situation. While their competition within the sports entertainment market is limited, your business very likely has rivals, with similar services or products, just waiting for the opportunity to take your share as soon as your customers decide you don’t have the chops to handle it.

Time is money. You can’t afford to waste any of it while your customers are waiting on you for solutions.