This post was originally published in Chief Executive’s CEO Briefings

Every company faces a “superbowl moment,” a make or break time when customer service really counts and every employee’s head should be in the game. The coordination leading up to the Big Game provides a good metaphor for the planning discipline that’s required for businesses to excel in their big moments — or suffer the consequences if they do not. The question is, will your company be ready?

The Superbowl is quickly approaching, and with it, the usual press coverage and media scrutiny of thousands of journalists who cover the event. Game strategies are reviewed. Playbooks are reported on. Every angle of preparation is covered.

For retailers, that moment is Black Friday. This day is one of the most important of the year for retailers; the kickoff of the holiday season that represents about 1/3 of annual revenue in the retail business. On Black Friday 2013, I went to a local Staples store to buy a few items. However, the customer experience was horrible— the kind that makes CEOs cringe. An inexperienced cashier fumbled the handling of my rebate check, had a poor attitude and through a series of other errors the entire experience – which should have taken two minutes – took twenty five and left me feeling cold. This particular Staples store blew their Superbowl Moment.

With nearly 1,900 stores in North America, Staples generates an estimated $1.5 billion in revenue on Black Friday weekend. If only a tiny fraction of their customers had equally poor experience as me, the impact on their business would be significant. For retailers on Black Friday, long waits in line can be expected but can’t they be mitigated by excellent service? Shouldn’t retailers quantify the wait time that is driven by long lines and that which happens as a result of poor service and lack of training? And, in making the distinction, shouldn’t they manage their businesses to address both?

It begs the question: what are the Superbowl moments for your company and how can you ensure your organization is adequately prepared? Some other considerations:

  • How might your best laid plans come undone and how can you mitigate against those risks?
  • How is every day a microcosm of your Superbowl moment?
  • How can plans for Superbowl moments be operationalized—and be part of your knitting during the normal course of business operations?

Here are some tips to prepare for Superbowl moments.

  • Explicit goals. Ensure that your staff has performance goals that relate to your big moments(s) that are defined well in advance.
  • Ensure managers are visible and proactively reach out to customers before, during and after the event as appropriate.
  • Identify the dimensions of service in a very granular way and quantify their contribution to overall results. Focus your preparation on the biggest levers that drive the most value for your company and brands. For Staples, there’s got to be a statistical connection between “average time in line,” perceived service and customer loyalty/lifetime customer value.
  • Have all of your staff trained and re-trained well in advance of your Superbowl moment.
  • Put your best people on the job during peak hours and peak days.
  • Make sure excellent and equally trained backup people are on-call during the event. You’ll be covered if someone on the A team calls in sick or can’t make it to work for some other reason.
  • For companies with many SKUs, make all staff are well aware and well trained on the lead products. By definition, lead products have many customers, which means many potential questions and service opportunities. Every missed or fumbled question by an employee could potentially hurt your brand.
  • Plan for agility. For example, retailers should open up new lines that are staffed when average wait time is unacceptably above norms.

There’s no excuse for poor performances during Superbowl moments. With proper planning and excellent execution, every day can be a big game victory.

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