Service Smackdown 3: Olympic Special Part 1 – London 2012 vs the World

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A colleague once passed on the received wisdom that when a business starts to use sporting metaphors it’s a sure sign that it’s in trouble. Be that as it may, this post offers some lessons from the London 2012 Olympics for delivering superior service and a terrific customer experience. This means changing the rules for the Service Smackdown – which, since I made them up and they are basically unfair, I’m at liberty to do – as I’m not able to compare London 2012 with anything even vaguely similar – the scale and uniqueness of the undertaking makes that impossible. Consider this to be more of an exhibition bout then since, on the basis of my direct experiences so far it’s at least podiumed* on customer service.


Bad start for the team when I tried to get some information on access to the Basketball Arena for the mobility-impaired, having failed to join the dots on the various parts of the website and the ‘Ask a Question’ FAQ-bot. My email was responded to fairly quickly but it simply sent me the link to the Basketball Arena page. My not happy response resulted in an email telling me my complaint – I didn’t think I was complaining but good to have it recognised as such – had been logged and would be dealt with.

Eventually I received an email apologising for the wrong information and telling me what I’d already discovered since by that time I’d been to events at both the Olympic Park and the ExCel Centre.


The combination of the advance publicity, the London 2012 site and the information you get with your tickets is a masterpiece of expectation-lowering, promising extensive waits for airport-style security, lengthy walks through the park and the promise of rain, of course.

With expectations suitably low we set off five hours before the start of our event – OK we did want to see some of the park beforehand – and made it through the underground with no hold-ups.

On arrival at Stratford the accessible transport was clearly signposted at the end of the platform as promised and we were driven to the main entrance. Going through the airport-style security was a lot more pleasant than doing so at an airport (maybe airport security should be run by the Army in a tent?) and we soon found ourselves in the vastness of the Olympic Park.

Marathon walk

The Basketball Arena is probably about as far from the main entrance as you could get so we found the accessible transport and within a couple of minutes my wife was on a volunteer-driven golf buggy with me briskly walking alongside. At the arena we were able to bypass the queues and go through a fast track entrance.

Time out

Let’s take a look at the match stats so far:

Time on or near the park: 2 hours

Number of interactions with front line staff: about 20

Number of unsatisfactory interactions: zero

Number of front line staff who appeared to be enjoying what they were doing: about 20

The one thing you can tell from these numbers is that one of the things that 2012 has got right is making a large number of people available to help. What I also noticed is that most of the front-liners weren’t standing about waiting to be contacted; they were often proactively approaching visitors and asking if they needed help. And almost without exception the people we dealt with were cheerful and helpful.

If I were to repeat the analysis for the rest of the visit and the ExCel visit a few days later then the score would be similar although the venue is smaller so fewer people may have been involved. To avoid repetition let’s cut to the…

Medal ceremony

I’m close to awarding gold for customer service here which is something I don’t always feel inclined to do. Cynics (and cynicism appears to have been temporarily outlawed) might say that it’s a special situation: everyone wants to enjoy ‘our’ Olympics as they won’t happen again, and we keep winning medals – even for sports that don’t involve sitting down – so we’re all surrounded by a feel good fug that makes even the most mediocre amateur seem like a customer service pro. To which I would say: that’s the point!!!

Inspiring a generation

I’ll follow up with some lessons learned soon but in short, 2012 illustrates a lot of things that companies should but often don’t get right in their attempts to deliver a superior service to customers. If we can get that then the much-debated Olympic Legacy won’t just be a sporting one.

*in addition to suspending cynicism the use of the nouns ‘podium’ and ‘medal’ as verbs is allowed during the Olympic period