OFF THE PITCH: Gain and Retain Members – CX Best Practices

This week’s bi-weekly “Off the Pitch” column by Ruth Nicholson examines how improving customer service can result in increased membership and improved volunteer retention for your organization. Ruth is the founder of GO!, the go-to expert resource for youth sports governance and operations.


by Ruth Nicholson

How many points of contact does your club have? Is there central phone number and email, or is there a list of individual phone numbers and emails for club staff, volunteers, and board members on the website?

Each of these people represents a point of contact for your club. Each also contributes to the customer service experience that is offered to your players, families, and prospective members. Typical points of contact include –

  • Club administrator,
  • Field scheduler,
  • Referee assignor,
  • Webmaster,
  • Social media coordinator,
  • Board members, and
  • Program directors, including directors of coaching, technical directors, tournament directors, and volunteers overseeing major events such as social and fundraising events.


Customer Service Blunders

On 1 July 2017, Forbes Leadership published an article entitled “If I wanted my question answered in 15 hours I would have waited 15 hours to ask the question” ( The article includes data collected on responses to customer service email and phone inquiries.

With regards to responding to customer email, the article notes that

  • The average response time to handle a customer service request was 15 hours and 17 minutes.
  • 41% of companies do not respond to customer service emails.
  • 90% of companies do not acknowledge or inform customers that emails have been received.
  • Only 11% of companies are able to answer a customer’s question on the first reply.

Customers react to this lack of responsiveness in many ways. They may wait out a response, but they will not be happy by the time they receive the response, reflecting poorly on the organization. Customers may also become so frustrated that they choose another company and become lost customers. They may also give up on email and turn to traditional phone support.

The key to a good customer service experience is accessibility to answers and to a live person when needed. According to Forbes, 60% of customers prefer phone calls to get their customer service support, and 77% of customers do not feel they connect with a live customer service rep quickly enough.

While we may not be comfortable thinking of our youth clubs as companies with customers, the experience that our members and prospective members have with our clubs is basically a customer service experience, regardless of the point of contact they have with our clubs.


Customer Service Successes

According to Sports Office 365, the virtual sports administration service of the Solving Soccer Alliance, club members in youth sports organizations want four things:

  • A phone number to call, and someone to answer it.
  • Acknowledgement that their email was received followed by a timely and thoughtful response.
  • Quick response on social media.
  • The opportunity to provide feedback.

Responsiveness to phone and email inquiries builds a good reputation in the community that attracts new members. Ongoing quality service retains existing members. It costs about 5 times as much in time and money to gain a new customer as it does to keep an existing customer, sometimes more. Our youth sports clubs rarely have large advertising and marketing budgets. In addition, staff and volunteer time is precious and often stretched to cover all of the demands of program delivery and administration.

The staff at Sports Office 365 and at GO! have many examples of improved customer service in clubs that have increased satisfied members, improved revenue, and kept volunteers returning to support programs.


When the Henlopen Soccer Club in Delaware improved its phone, email, and social media responsiveness, it increased player registration significantly over several years. The increase was attributed to improved communication and responsiveness which gave families easy access to answers to their questions, including the personal attention provided by the ability to speak to a real person.

Club administrators serving the Celebration Youth Soccer in Florida improved their direct assistance for team managers and coaches by registering teams for events, scheduling travel, ordering player cards, and other administrative duties. The original travel team program doubled in a year and more than doubled the year after that. The result was that volunteers had more time to focus on internal team communications that improved the quality of member experiences and attracted more players to the club.

The FC Seattle Storm of the Western Soccer Alliance ran its home game stadium operations using an 88-person volunteer staff. All communications were responded to in less than a day. Volunteers also received free parking, food, and drink at games. The volunteer return rate between seasons was 98% because volunteers wanted to be a part of an organization that was responsive, appreciated their work, and offered to address some of their personal costs of volunteering.


Tips to Improve Your Club’s Customer Service

  • Designate someone to answer your club phone during both business and evening hours. Respond to voice mail messages within 24 hours, preferably the same day.
  • Respond to emails within 24 hours, preferable the same day, even if the response is “We have received your email and are working on your request.”
  • Audit and update your website weekly.
  • Include a feedback form on your website. Respond to submissions and comments with the same approach as to email.

Ruth Nicholson is the founder of GO!, a 24/7 Resource and Training Library offering youth soccer organizations proven leadership and administrative tools. It includes resources for paid and unpaid staff (and volunteers). To download a sample of one of its feedback tools, click here: Tournament Volunteer Survey.

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