She moved for an internship eight hours away from home, started a new department for the Royals after their 2008 renovations, and makes a mean latte. She’s Alex Janowiak, now Manager of Guest Services & Diamond Suites for the Chicago White Sox.
In this interview, Alex details some of the premium amenities and destinations at Guaranteed Rate Field (including the new Goose Island section), her close-knit relationships with fellow ALSD members, her best advice for new members and conference attendees, as well as how being a record-holding Starbucks barista helped shape her point of view on customer service.
Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Alex, we want to know more about the premium inventory you service. Can you start by listing those products for us?
We have suites, the Guaranteed Rate Club, where we’re sitting right now which is an all-inclusive area, as well as the Magellan Scout Seats down on the field level.
We’re also really excited about a new area in right field called the Goose Island, so pretty excited to offer a new product this year to White Sox fans.
What are the standout amenities your clients are asking for or you are being proactive in providing to them?
First and foremost is going to be the F&B. We are a partner with Levy in all of our premium spaces, so the food and beverage that we’re putting on the menu each and every day is a little bit different, a little bit unique, and something people are excited to come out here and see the next day and the next game they get to experience.
Obviously, there’s the on-field events. There’s getting to watch fireworks from the visitor’s dugout. All those fun things that really appeal to the diehard fans, but ultimately, people are coming out here for the experience, for the ambience, and to have some great food and beverage.
How do you continue to improve your craft? Is there something you do, a philosophy you might keep, or any way you improve your service day in and day out?
I always continue to improve myself. I don’t think anybody’s ever going to be perfect, but I really lean on a lot of my counterparts with other teams, even in other leagues, and learn from them what is industry standard, what we are doing that really makes us stand out. But continuing to improve and continuing to keep an open mind is priority number one.
So you just got into it, but I want to know more. You have this MLB network, and there’s a bunch of you. How often do you communicate? Are you just sharing best practices in the industry? Or are you also enjoying each other’s personal lives?
I would not trade those relationships for the world. I’m pretty sure if ALSD could bottle up what that crew has and sell it, they would. We are a very close-knit group. It’s not just work. We have group texts when somebody’s getting married, having a baby, buying a new house. We are a part of each of those huge life moments.
But yeah sure, it’s great to shoot out an email when there is a work question. We don’t always have all those questions when it comes to the conference itself. But later down the line, something pops up, you’ve got a new idea, you want to pitch something, or you just want to brainstorm with a group. Send out an email, and you’ll get a response from each and every one of those people, so I don’t only consider them counterparts in MLB. They’re friends as well.
The number-one piece of advice I give to anybody that’s either attending ALSD for the first time or coming solo and they don’t know anybody is to get outside your comfort zone, build those relationships, build that network that is going to turn into your lifelong friends year after year. Those are the relationships you can lean on when you do have a question or you need to bounce something off of somebody.
That goes for vendors as well. You may not need their service at that time, but when something’s getting spitballed around the office, you can say, 'Hey, I’ve got just the right vendor to get that done for us. I met them at ALSD.'
Tell me about your career path. Are you from Chicago? How long have you been with the White Sox? And have you been with any other teams?
I am originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Woodridge, Illinois. I’m heading into my sixth season [with the White Sox], but I’ve been in baseball for 12 [seasons].
I started my career with the Kansas City Royals, packed up a car full of clothes, and drove the eight hours down to Kansas City knowing one person in the city as a whole. On a hope and a prayer, I started an internship as a group sales associate and thought I was just going to be down there for the season, but in the season of 2008, Kauffman Stadium was undergoing huge renovations.
They had some suites, but that was about it. Obviously, the trend in baseball was going to these all-inclusive, amenity-rich areas. The Royals wanted to capitalize on that trend, so we built the Diamond Club behind home plate which included a lounge, included in-seat service, and some of those tickets included loaded value, so it really was a first for Kansas City fans. And then we also had the Crown Club which was an area that was field level with the lounge behind.
My director brought me in and said, ‘Hey, we’ve never had a premium department before, but I think you would be a great fit to start this ball rolling. Would you want to come on full-time and stay aboard with the Royals?’ So of course I did and was there for six seasons.
Being responsible for all of that revenue for the club as a team member of one was a big undertaking for a twenty-something. It was something I took pride and joy in starting and building those relationships with those clients who never had a contact person to go to previously.
You have a unique path for how you learned customer service, right? You didn’t always work in baseball. You may have worked for a rather large coffee chain.
I started my career with Starbucks, while I was a young college student, just making some cash on the side and ultimately, hung onto that working alongside my career at the Royals, because I was hustling and trying to make that dream in sports happen.
Starbucks was a great company to work for. And if I could have everybody work in hospitality and the service industry at some point in their lives, I think it would be a huge service to everyone, the way you treat people, the way you talk to people, the way you work well under pressure. And Starbucks is a great company that takes care of its employees, so you felt appreciated while doing it.
When I left Kansas City, and I left Starbucks in 2013, I held the record for the Midwest region while I was on bar making drinks for how many cars came through the drive-thru within a 30-minute period.
Any guesses? How many cars in 30 minutes?
I don’t think you can do one a minute, can you? I’m going to say 29.
Sixty. Six-zero cars in 30 minutes.
One every 30 seconds?
Morale of the story is I make a mean latte. I am a coffee snob for sure.
You can cut your teeth working in premium. But if you can start with Ritz, Disney, one of the big hotel chains, working at Starbucks, or a restaurant, or tending bar, I agree that definitely helps. Is there anything else in any of your experiences you’ve been through that helps you serve clients who might need a little something extra?
Well, you mentioned Disney. Disney is a great example of a standard people hold for customer service. A very common question that a guest at Disney asks is, ‘What time does the 1:00 p.m. parade start?’ And is that guest really asking what time the 1:00 p.m. parade starts? No, they’re asking where do I need to be when it’s going to pass the point that I’m standing.
So it’s knowing to ask those follow-up questions. It’s knowing to get to the root of whatever issue, or problem, or ask a client is asking you for. I think that’s so important.
REGISTER FOR ALSD 2019 and meet Alex Janowiak, one of four co-moderators for the MLB League Day sessions at this year's annual conference and tradeshow.