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You’ve been served: Three things businesses can learn from the Australian Open

Bri Williams /

Ashleigh Barty

Australia's Ashleigh Barty celebrates after defeating Greece's Maria Sakkari during their third round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Friday, January 18, 2019. Source: AP Photo/Kin Cheung.

With the Australian Open heading toward the finals, there are three business lessons from tennis I’d like to share.

1. Tennis umpires wear sneakers — so walk in your customer’s shoes if you want to influence them

Tennis umpires wear tennis shoes, and not just for how they look. They wear sneakers so if they have to walk the court to assess its condition (such as after rain), they experience it the same as the players do.

The lesson

Empathy — your ability to see a situation from your customer’s point of view by walking in their shoes — is paramount if you want to successfully influence behaviour. By starting in their world you can anticipate why they may resist your offer and devise strategies to compel them to act.

More on how to develop empathy here.

2. The second serve is always slower — and behaviour changes when there’s something to lose

Same player, same task, but different behaviour because the stakes have changed. That’s the difference between the first and second serve in tennis.

The first serve is harder, faster and closer to the line. Why? Because if you miss it you get a do-over.

The second serve is softer, slower and further from the line because if you miss this time you lose the point.

The lesson

Your customer’s behaviour will change dramatically as soon as they have something to lose. If you are putting too much pressure on them they are likely to walk away because that is safer than losing their time, money and credibility with you.

To overcome this issue you need to make them feel safe to commit, using money-back guarantees and returns polices, for example.

More on why customer’s don’t buy here.

3. Hawk-Eye challenges — and let your customers complain

Players are able to challenge a line-call three times per set of tennis. When they do, Hawk-Eye technology is used to model the precise location a ball landed, either confirming or correcting the decision of the line official.

The opportunity to dispute the call is important because it gives players a feeling of control over their circumstances, reducing the likelihood they will lose their temper.

The lesson 

Your customers need to feel they have access to and are afforded due process. That means letting them know how they can return goods or lodge complaints, and making it easy to do so.

As soon as a customer feels they have no recourse they will get extremely angry and make a bigger issue out of something than it needed to be.

More on how to approach customer complaints here.

NOW READ: Just ask: Four ways startups can create a culture of feedback just like Canva’s

NOW READ: From zero to $1 million annual recurring revenue: The 13 lessons this founder learnt along the way

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Bri Williams

Bri Williams is Australia's foremost authority on behavioural economics applied to everyday business and personal effectiveness. Author, speaker and leading consultant, Bri can make your life easier through behavioural science. More at www.briwilliams.com.au.

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