Be Careful What You Ask For…

Last Saturday, my family made a trek from Nashville to Cincinnati. While planning for the trip, I realized that there would be a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway that day. The track is located just off I-71 about 40 miles south of Cincinnati. With a 7:30 pm start, I knew that there would likely be traffic near the exits for the track that would delay us for a while. Well, “a while” took on a whole new meaning as it took us more than 4 hours to move approximately 18 miles past the track.

As the length of time increased sitting in what became a parking lot on I-71, my thoughts turned from our travel schedule to the plight of thousands of racing fans. It became evident that many people stranded on the interstate would be late for the race. For many people, the delay turned into completely missing the race. Investments of time and money had gone down the drain. For those who did manage to get to the track for the race, many of them had to endure another traffic nightmare after the race. On top of the major traffic problems, fans voiced complaints with many aspects of the customer experience such as inadequate parking, insufficient toilet facilities, rude employees, and a chaotic situation overall.

What made the epic service failure at Kentucky Speedway surprising were the struggles the track went through to get a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in the first place. For more than 10 years, Kentucky Speedway lobbied, begged, and even sued NASCAR in an effort to get a race on the schedule. Finally, persistence was rewarded with the inaugural Quaker State 400. Time for Kentucky Speedway to shine and put on a show that would show NASCAR that it should have been awarded a race a long time ago… didn’t happen! Poor planning and execution left Kentucky Speedway unable to deliver the promised experience of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.

The lesson for marketers from this unpleasant experience is: Be careful what you ask for because if you get it, you may not be able to handle it. If you are looking to stimulate demand, boost sales, or draw an audience, are you prepared for a scenario of tremendous customer response? Kentucky Speedway is not the first business to fall on its face when trying to make a good impression. Some businesses that have made offers via Groupon have struggled to meet surges in customer demand. Thus, quality suffers and the aim of initiating relationships with new customers by drawing them in with a coupon incentive is negated. If you are planning a unique event or promotion, are you prepared to handle the spike in business it may bring? Is there a recovery plan in place in case service failure occurs?

The customer chaos that transpired at Kentucky Speedway was more than service failure- it was a service disaster. It was inexcusable and should have never happened. Protect the most valuable asset you have: customer trust in your brand.

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