Ignore Social Empathy? You'll Lose Fans!

An interview with Chris Wise, Executive Director of Designsensory Intelligence. 

Designsensory Intelligence. Sounds intelligent… Tell us more! 

We do proprietary customer behavioral research.

We solve client needs when they need to understand their customer or the competitor's customer. To understand them on a deep level, they will know how to talk with them, how to market to them, how to just engage with them so they can build solid relationships to build business. 

For research specifically catered to the sports and entertainment industry, what are you looking for and uncovering? 

We try to open the eyes, ears, hearts, and minds of everyone that is that is wanting to do business with the world and that is specifically as it relates to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility. We're trying to make sure that people listen and pay attention to build relationships and help them act in a way from an understanding rather than ignorance. We provide education and break down the barriers, so every human is treated as a human. 

What principles or disciples help with this? 

We often lean into a discipline founded by Fred Reichheld, the founder of the Net Promoter System. He's taking this a step further.  It’s really about customer love; build everything you do, both internal and external, around the whole idea of love as a relationship. It's a two-way relationship and when you when you when you have that, you are indeed listening. You're able to express openly and honestly and improve. 

By understanding the whole idea of unconditional positive regard, you treat everyone with just exactly that: positive regard with no conditions attached to it. So hire people that that come from different disciplines, from different abilities, different backgrounds, different cultures. 

Do you have specific examples related to sports that will help the industry understand the “why” and “how”?  

The NFL is the biggest spectator sport. If you take all 30 markets that the 32 teams are in, avid, die-hard NFL fans, fans with disabilities could fill each of the 30 stadiums for the 32 teams 11 times. That’s a full home season more. That's a sizable audience. We are talking about fans who enjoy sports, want to be part of it. Don't ignore them. 

The harder part is understanding who our fans are that do not have visible disabilities. That's the biggest segment of those with disabilities. This is where sensitivity training comes in, sensory rooms must be considered.  

Think about people that are blind, should they be excluded from anything, especially a sports venue? They're experiencing everything else. Some are sight limited, but the sounds, the sensory things that go on in the game, the social aspect of the game; they are all very important. This population works, they're educated, they have families, they have disposable income to come to games. That’s really what we're trying to make people understand. Break down those walls and bring people to, make sure you're communicating and not excluding anyone. 

You have more statistics to help us understand the magnitude of disabled population, those with visible and invisible disabilities.  

We've learned in our research that if you exclude the 26% of the population that have disabilities, you also alienate them. If you ignore, diminish, or talk down to, or tokenize people in any way, you run the risk that has a negative impact by 60% of the population on a brand. 

So, if you ignore, you run the risk of basically killing your business. It may not happen right away, especially with sports teams who have winning seasons and full stadiums. But over time, it will deteriorate their fan base.

Talk about empathy and how that impacts what we are studying here. 

Societal empathy changing, especially with the younger demographic, and it will indeed be demanded. 

What I've seen change in relation to empathy toward inclusivity is that there’s been a steady increase in empathy. The days are gone when we would market to a pretty singular population. The US culture is change. For example, mixed-race is going to become who we are sooner rather than later. We have to understand all cultures and abilities as we communicate, operate. We will always be learning, and we always have to have our hearts and minds open to understand, communicate, and market better. 

How do you conduct research? 

Many ways. We do surveys. We use can have online focus group tools. We use artificial intelligence. 

We have high-definition recording glasses, which can be sunglasses or clear glasses. They record both audio and video, which allow us to learn. We ask people with different disabilities and backgrounds to a venue one time without anyone in the venue except them. They'll talk about it and we'll hear that download. And then we invite them back when the stadium or arena is full. It’s then we get a way different understanding of. 

We had the benchmarks: nice stadium, plenty of room, good signage. Then all of a sudden, it’s, “Oh my gosh, I can't get around” or “I'm freaking out.” It’s then that they can really tell us what's bothering them, what are the barriers. We can share that information with operations, with the marketing folks.