Updated: Jul 16
If you are a tennis fan as I am, then you likely know that Wimbledon is being played right now. It is the oldest tennis tournament in the world and widely regarded as one of the most prestigious.
I took up tennis about a few years ago as the pandemic started and have been steadily working to become less embarrassing on the court ever since. I have found that not only is it great exercise and clears the mind - but like all sports, has direct lessons that can be applied in life and business.
The key takeaways are agility, knowledge, and understanding.
The best businesses are experts at not only acquiring information, but putting it to work for the good of their clients and customers.
As I watched Wimbledon kick off I pulled down these nuggets that can help us all win as the marketplace evolves. I am not just talking about in the post-pandemic era, as so many are pandering to, but in all aspects of business not withstanding the past 15 months.
It's time for you to stop thinking about winning in a post pandemic world - think about winning. Period.
The Field Changes Quickly and Is Unforgiving
Courts change in tennis very quickly. Wimbledon presents a real challenge as it features grass courts. They get slick, the surface is unfamiliar, and most of all, it is unforgiving. As I watched Serena Williams have to exit in round one after she slipped, it is a reminder that the landscape makes the rules, not the other way around.
This is the key to winning in customer experience as well - while you want to innovate and inspire your clients and customers, you must also listen to their needs. It is good to question and challenge to ensure that they are thinking around the corner, but you also have to ensure that you keep their values and vision in mind as well.
This is also in line with the way that tennis professionals must know when to challenge a line judge's call and when to accept it. With only a minimal number of challenges to use within a match, there is little room for error.
Serving guests directly is the same thing. Ensure that you are paying attention to their ever changing needs, but don't forget to innovate for them regularly as well. Just as mixing in clay courts, grass courts, and hard courts keeps thing interesting for tennis fans, you have to mix it up a bit for guests as well.
Getting In Close Works Best
Playing the net was the hardest thing for me to learn (next to my serve) when I took up tennis. It even becomes more challenging as you take into account the various surfaces you play upon and the way the ball bounces. But I watched Roger Federer get in close on day one and work on dropping shots in for the win.
That is a reminder that keeping your customers and employees close matters. You can't lose touch of the end customer and you must listen to your team, as they have the most direct interaction with the customers and clients you serve.
Leadership that fails to experience service from the customers' point of view are destined to become too far removed from the process to really understand what is going on.
The magic here is that not only can leaders learn about the customer experience but also what is happening with their teams.
Step into front line roles regularly to ensure this isn't an issue.
Embrace the Basics
It is easy to fall in love with the big serve and a ferocious forehand, but while they are good for the occasional ace here and there, they don't win the games. Novak Djokovic is ranked at the top of the men's leaderboard, but he doesn't hit the ball the hardest. He is a master of fundamentals and positioning, which is why he seems so unstoppable some days. He puts the ball in the right place at the right time - always.
The same is true in customer experience and business. You can only get so far with flashy innovations and dramatic marketing.
A back to basics approach is something that customers are embracing now more than ever.
The great part about fundamental execution is that is never goes out of style. Clean locations, friendly hospitality, consistent quality, and warm smiles are always winners with customers. And frankly, many organizations fail to deliver here.
By all means innovate - I've seen Djokovic knock the cover off the ball from time to time for dramatic effect or the big win - but never do so at the expense of getting the little details right as well.
Take Advantage of the Luck Factor
Every athlete - including tennis players - have to embrace luck. I have seen several matches already this year where a ball has been flicked in desperation, over the shoulder, to land just out of reach of an opponent.
The thing winners do better than anyone is then taking that stroke of luck and investing it into a win. They don't rely upon it, but they do capitalize on it to gain momentum and fuel the victory.
You can do the same in business. You may run into a prospect on a plane or at the coffee shop - will you be ready to make it work? I once sold a speaking engagement on a plane flying back from Cincinnati when the guy next to me asked what I did and why anyone would care.
So don't walk around looking for the lucky break, but don't be afraid to use it on the path to success if it comes along. That means pushing even harder and not sitting back to watch for the next lucky stroke.
Learn From What Works and From What Doesn't
Tennis is a game of feel, much like golf and bowling. As I watch Wimbledon, part of the fun is watching players feel each other out during a match. Some know each other well, but every match is different.
You can watch them try retuning the ball at the same angle, then dropping it short, and finally sending a lob to the back of the court. This is all designed to find the smallest holes in an opponent's game and then take advantage of them.
Sometimes strategies work - and sometimes they don't. But pros always learn.
In your business you will try things that customers and clients love - and things that they hate. The key is to learn from both and take action to correct quickly. That is why many companies try things in a trial phase with enough points of contact to get a sense of success or failure - but not wide enough that it will damage their brand.
Many tennis players also pay attention during warm ups to assess the other player's serve, reach, and speed - that is the tennis equivalent of a pilot phase.
So take this time to consider what you can learn as a leader from all avenues of life and then apply to your work.
Anything that can help you lead your team more effectively and deliver a higher level of customer experience will only build your business and grow your sales.
Because it really all comes back to keeping your customers at the center of everything you do - and that is where the most amazing things are possible.
Tony is an award winning speaker and author on the topics of sales growth, customer experience, and leadership. Tony speaks to thousands annually and has been featured on ABC News and Fox News. He is available for business planning, motivational keynotes, leadership workshops, and employee service skills training.
Tony is the founder of Ignite Your Service and the Chief Experience Officer for 4xi Global Consulting.
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