There are certain things your customers really care about.
If you get them wrong, there is no forgiveness; only the roar of angry of racers, and the threat of torches and pitchforks for screwing them up.
Ok, maybe not real torches and pitchforks. But you can easily translate that image into races stating that they will, “never come back to race with you again“, if you do not get these things right.
Some days I almost think torches and pitchforks would be better. At least you would know exactly how they felt.
Instant feedback is easy to understand.
Never coming back, on the other hand, only leaves you with questions; questions that need answers.
So after some exhaustive research, lots of surveys, and just talking to dozens of racers, I’ve discovered the things that almost ALL racers hate.
These are not just minor annoyances. These are what I would call universal dislikes that really get under people’s skin.
The dislike for these kinds of race director mistakes is so strong, that over 80-percent of racers I poled sighted at least one of these five reasons to why they stopped coming to a race.
What grievous errors did these race directors make?
If you’ve been to enough races, you’ve probably experienced more than one of these problems yourself.
Did you go back the following year after it happened?
The data would suggest that the answer is a resounding, “No”.
If you are a race promoter or director, you should certainly heed the following points as an object lesson in what not to do!
Racers are likely to forgive most minor race management issues.
However, the following problems will certainly cost you customers:
#5 – Who Designed This Course?
Arrows and survey tape don’t cost much.
This means you should never have a reason for course confusion.
Any time you have an intersection, questionable deer path, or open area, you should have some clear and visible indication on which way a racer should go.
Lack of simple directions takes racers out of their race-head, and makes them have to make decisions about what might be the course.
This is a bad deal for any race director that did not take the time, or have someone trustworthy enough to take the time to check the course before the race.
Including dangerous areas is another concern.
This is especially true for mountain bike races.
Just because you can ride something, does not mean everyone else can too.
Not having any ride arounds adds to this problem. Obstacles that are for more experienced riders should always have a ride around.
If you don’t have ride arounds, don’t include that section in your race.
Trail runners have this problem too.
When the course includes ruts, rocks, and holes — above and beyond what is expected — runners either have to walk the section or risk an ankle.
But including that portion of the trail that goes straight up?
Why do this to people?
If they wanted to break out the chalk and rappelling gear, they would have gone rock climbing.
When you have a “boulder course” in the middle of your race course, you need to reconsider the trail your using.
Unfortunately, adventure racers are the most sensitive to bad courses.
Since most adventure races are built upon orienteering, you better have your checkpoints plotted correctly.
And if races have to plot their own points, your geo-coords or UTM’s should be spot on.
In a race that is all about navigation, the race director and course setter need to be the masters of plotting, setting, and confirming locations.
If you put a control on the course, it better be where you say it is on the map.
Don’t get cleaver and tell racers that a checkpoint with the clue of “bridge” is really hidden in a bush 50-yards away.
Do not overthink your courses.
Moving over distance is difficult enough without having to guess where the race director intended you to go.
You can expect racers to be a mix of new and veteran racers, but always plan their experience as if they have never raced before.
If a location looks confusing, mark it well, and check it on race day.
Or don’t use it in your race.
#4 – Where’s My Results?
Speedy race results means getting results out within 15- to 30-minutes on race day.
It also means getting results out ot the race website, Facebook, and anywhere else you need to within 24-hours.
I talked about this before in Using timing as your essential tool for race day arbitration.
However, you need to understand how important race results are for your racers.
They “expect” results, and not a week after the race. They expect them NOW!
Late results on race day — 1-hour late — can be forgiven.
But if you don’t have race results on race day, you are playing with fire.
Most race directors can figure out Top 3 for most race disciplines. Unfortunately, Top 3 is not where the bulk of your revenue comes from.
It is that 95-percent of other races you need to make happy too.
Getting results is not a difficult process, so long as you have a process in place prior to race day, and have practiced it a few times.
If you don’t, find a way to get this service delivered.
Race results is how you help complete a racer’s physiological need for closure.
There is a point right after a racer has finished that solidifies their impression of your race.
If you have results for them in that time — no matter what they placed — they will see your event as legitimate and worth coming back to.
Not having results shows your races that you really didn’t care that much about how they did.
You might actually care, but you give them the impression that you don’t when you’re results never come out.
Racers want to take pictures of their results, they want to tell friends and family how they did, and they want to know who they beat (or didn’t beat).
This is a huge opportunity for you and your race that needs your attention.
Don’t ruin this fragle relationship with your racers at the end of your race by messing up results.
Show them you care by doing your part as the race director.
Even if they’re hand written on a white board, post results and allow racers to have their moment of closure.
#3 – You Packed Up Before I Finished!
Have you ever heard the term “finish line for everyone”?
I heard this during the 2016 US Marine Corps Half-Marathon, held over the Summer in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Although not an off-road race, the concept stand.
No one packs up, and no one goes home, until everyone still in the race has crossed the finish line.
What kind of customer service impact do you think that has on a racer when they discover that everything the first place racer experienced is still there for them?
The word is EPIC!
If you want someone to be a customer for life, this is the kind of thing you do to earn that loyalty.
The simple act of waiting for the last racer to cross before you tear everything down is awesome.
Because the opposite is horrible.
Imagine the impact an empty venue has on a racer when they see nothing but flat tents, rolled up barriers, removed tape, and a temporary finish line.
Add to that the lack of cowbells, cheering spectators, or even an announcer, and you have the makings for a customer that will NEVER come back.
This is a controversial issue with many race promoters.
Some claim their permit only allows them to stay so long, making them have to vacate the venue before a certain time.
I call bull-pucky on that excuse!
If you have a course, you should know how long it takes to run, ride, or walk that course.
That worst case scenario time should be built into your schedule.
If it’s not, then you need to rethink your scheduling process.
Volunteers need to leave is another reason I hear from race promoters.
They can’t keep the venue open because they will not have anyone to help pack everything up.
Again, this is a scheduling and planning problem.
You should find a core group of volunteers — or hire staff — to help you do nothing but pack up the venue.
This way, you can remove the worry of having a late racer hold up the close of your event.
And if you want to add some extra “cool points” to your customer service plan, then recruit or hire your own cheeing squad SPECIFICALLY for those last racers.
Make them seem like your race was just for them.
That’s how you build loyalty.
Be true to the fast and slow alike.
#2 – Registration Was A Mess!
There is something to be said for hassle-free registration.
Racers want the people (or person) at registration to know what the heck they are doing.
They want to come up, pay their registration money, and leave.
They don’t want to come up and find people fumbling around with papers, or looking at their phone instead of paying attention to who’s next.
They want someone to answer their questions, and then let them go.
Not one racer I’ve meet wants to wait at registration for any amount of time.
Most want some time to check out their race gear, warm-up, and get into the zone.
The more time they spend at registration, the less time they have to mess around with their race gear.
However, if your registration doesn’t have it’s stuff together, racers start to get impatient.
This is why the longer it takes for a racer to check in and out of registration, the more damage you do to your race’s reputation.
Nobody wants to go to a race that makes getting into the race difficult.
You need to understand how important a first impression is to your customers.
Your welcome message and registration is just as important as your finish line reception and timely results are at the end of a race.
You need to start your customer’s day off with a good opinion of you.
If they start with a bad opinion of you, then they start to nit-pick everything else throughout the day.
By the end of the race, they are so put out by all your little problems, that they chalk it up to your inability to manage a race worth returning to.
First impressions matter.
A good person at registration that is equip with a brain, a genuine smile, and a process that makes them look competent, will be your first chance to win customers over.
If you can add a “hope you have a great race” to this experience, your customers may forgive all sorts of small mistakes based entirely on how they were treated a registration.
Don’t ignore the power of a positive first impression.
#1 – Those Guys Are Jerks
Racers want friendly, professional attitudes from all staff and volunteers at all times.
They want to deal with people that have smiles at their faces, who talk directly to them (not at them), and look them in the eye.
They want people who will answer questions with real answers, not differ every question to the mystical race director they can never find.
They don’t want to be yelled out about getting to the start line, nor admonished for not know where to line up.
Although some officials fail to head this advice, you can actually talk to people without yelling at them.
You don’t always have to raise your voice to tell racers to stay off the course or to not block timers.
Some staff, officials, and volunteers do get tired of having to tell racers over and over again to watch out for racers still on the course.
This is often a safety issue. But the WAY you do it does not need to be condescending or angry.
You can tell people to move along and be civil about it too.
All racers notice the difference between polite requests and drill sargent like berating.
The level of polite, professional behavior is also true for all staff, officials and volunteers sitting in places that racers can hear them talk.
None of them should be making off-colored remarks, distasteful statements, or sexual innuendos during the race.
You can deal with staff and volunteers who behave like this.
However, if you encounter officials doing this, you can report them directly to your association.
In fact, officials who think they above the law when it comes to polite and professional behavior need to be careful in the Internet age.
The time when they had autonomous power to push race directors and staff around is over when it comes to mobile phones and instant uploads to social media.
Same is true with your staff and volunteers. The fastest way to look like a fool is to have someone on your team loose their temper or start making jokes about racers.
You’ll find it trending on social media before you even get a chance to deal with the issue yourself.
Teach your staff and volunteers to always be pleasant and kind by being pleasant and kind yourself.
Lead by example.
Deal with complaints and problems quickly and decisively. If you need more guidance on how to deal with volunteers that are a problem, please check out my article The #1 reason volunteers can ruin your race.
Officials can be excused as well. They come in 2- or 3-person teams, which allows you to save your race if you have to kick one off your course.
They do not have ultimate power to be jerks. If an official is treating your racers poorly, you have an obligation to warn them to stop.
And then fire them if they continue.
I can fire them?
You’re absolutely right you can!
Stop pretending officials are untouchable. This is business, and they are not your friends.
Your racers come first.
And if your national association is worth anything to your sport, they will back you up.
If they don’t, think about canceling your membership and starting your own.
Your only hope of creating loyal, returning customers, is by giving your racers the best possible experience you can.
You can do this by training your staff and volunteers before race day on the positive attitude you need your team to present during the entire race.
No team will be prefect. But if you are proactive in protecting your racers from from bad staff, poor volunteers, and unprofessional officials, you have a real chance at gaining new customers.
Repent, Change, and Improve… Or Else
These five reasons are why a majority of racers stop coming to races.
If you are guilty of any of these transgressions, stop now!
Fall on your sword and correct these big problems before you push one more racer away from your events.
These are not minor race management issues. These are the problems that will certainly lead you into ruin.
Stop being that director that everyone else points to as how not to put on a race.
Now you know.