SMGT 266 Class Goes to NRG Park for Customer Service Experience

SMGT 266 Class Goes to NRG Park for Customer Service Experience

Thousands of fans and millions of viewers watch their favorite teams square off for Thursday Night Football every week, but on October 25th, Sport Management’s Leading with Service class had the opportunity to experience a side of football that most football fans will never know.

Students in SMGT 266 traveled to NRG Park for an exclusive observation of the stadium’s customer service operations leading up to and during the Houston Texans’ home victory over the Miami Dolphins.

smgt 266 class at NRG Stadium

The trip to NRG Park was coordinated by Professor in the Practice Diane Crossey, who was the Senior Director of Event Operations and Guest Services for the Texans prior to joining Rice as a faculty member in 2015. Crossey worked with the Texans for 13 years and her former co-workers volunteered their time to provide students with this unique experience.

Prior to the Thursday night game, Leah Mastaglio, the Assistant General Manager of NRG Park, spoke to the class about what to look for in a game day environment and what factors staff should be addressing in order to provide fans with a superb service experience.

“Without this knowledge, students may pass a situation and not realize that an opportunity has been missed – or taken,” Crossey said. “Leah Mastaglio stressed to the students to observe the behaviors which most guests may not notice.”

On game day, students met with Mastaglio and toured the employee check-in area where they learned how the stadium welcomes and equips over 4,000 part-time staff members. They also learned about employee reward and recognition programs offered by the Texans and their game day partners, Aramark and Contemporary Services Corporation. In the latter portion of the evening, students were assigned to one of six different customer service booths inside the stadium to observe the Guest Services staff in action as they handled fan issues and questions.

SMGT 266 students observe Customer Service booths at NRG ParkSMGT 266 class observe customer service at NRG Stadium

“Hearing and reading about customer service is important, but actually seeing how customer service representatives handle situations is much more valuable,” Crossey said. “Just by being in a game day environment, the students get a much broader view of what it takes to provide customer service to 70,000 guests.”

Students also had the opportunity to hear about various customer service and security topics from Houston Police Department Captain Michael Skillern, General Manager of Aramark Chis Devore and Regional Vice-President of Contemporary Services Corporation Chris Martinez. Additionally, NRG Park Senior Event Manager Craig Chapman hosted a question and answer session for students before they were assigned to booths.

SMGT 266 students with Police ChiefSmgt 266 class

“Every speaker who addressed the class stressed the same point: the people you hire make the experience and give your guests reason to return,” Crossey said. “It starts and ends with the employees you recruit, hire and train who represent you in delivering that experience.”

Students may have traveled to NRG Park to observe the behind-the-scenes operations of Thursday night’s game, but their experience also led them onto the field and, if they were as fortunate as Sport Management sophomore Morgan Laaksonen, onto the stadium’s jumbotron.

“We were given the opportunity to carry the Texas flag out onto the field with a few other volunteers before the game,” Laaksonen said. “We watched the Texans warm up just feet from where we were standing in the tunnel. We even got a selfie with Toro!”

SMGT 266 on field

Sophomore Louis Alvarez said the trip will allow him to view future events through a different lens.

“Our trip to NRG Park was definitely one that helped me grasp the effort that is put in to ensure that all fans and customers are happy,” Alvarez said. “It's incredible to see the grand scale and precise processes that go into planning an event, even when it is just a regular season NFL game like Thursday Night Football.”

In fact, this was exactly the takeaway Crossey wanted students to take away from the trip.

“As guests experience a game day, oftentimes they don’t necessarily realize how many little things go into making their experience great,” Crossey said. “Customer service isn’t about solving issues – it’s about anticipating what a guest needs and finding a way to provide it before being asked.”

For SMGT 266 students, the trip to NRG was not only a chance to learn by observing, but also to experience first-hand how unforgettable good customer service can be.

“We went to NRG Stadium to observe how employees deal with guests in the customer service booths, but instead of just this, we got a one-of-a-kind and extremely memorable experience,” Laaksonen said. “We were Leah Mastaglio's clients for the night, and she did what any good customer service employee would do; she turned her event into a memory.”

SMGT 266 class on field

Elliot Stahr, a sophomore from Irvine, California, is double-majoring in Psychology and Philosophy.