During winter, for families who do lots of outdoor team sports, there's a familiar sense of frustration and disappointment at the weekend.
The message might land on a Friday evening, but typically it'll be confirmed on the morning itself, to be met by a carcophony of groans, 'game's off.'
Fortunately, we have an ever growing bank of all weather 3G and 4G pitches that can mostly fight off the floods and cold snaps. There aren't enough to accommodate everyone on a particularly bad weather weekend, but a fair few teams can relocate and save their weekends with a bit of logistics juggling.
However, in a world where we want instant, self-serve, online experiences for meeting our booking needs, securing one of these pitches has proven to be unecessarily archaic.
Last Saturday I needed a pitch for the next day, having lost my grass pitch to heavy rain.
I knew of a few local 3G pitches so I opened the laptop to check availability and then make a booking if I found something.
What I actually found was no online service. Just an office hours (useful given weekend last minute demand) email address with a 5 day(!) response service level, and a difficult to locate phone number.
When I dialled through to a multi location institution, each site could only speak for their own availability and then had to transfer me to the next one to do the same.
Eventually, on the 3rd transfer, there appeared to be some availability. Now to check whether they could meet my specific requirements.
For those that don't know, the format of football changes for children as they grow. They start off playing 5 a side, then move to 7, then 9, before playing the 11 a side version that we're all familiar with. At each stage, the size of the pitch and the goals also change. This means that venues need the means (and the markings) and equipment (goals) to be able to configure pitches to offer each version.
I needed 9 a side and was very clear to check that the pitch was big enough and the right goals were available "Yes, we can do 9 a side." Great, i thought, football is on! Except when I arrived the pitch wasn't big enough and neither were the goals. Cue lots of awkward conversations with the opposition who had travelled for 30 minutes and the parents who had re-organised their days.
Maybe the staff member should have known better, but the whole experience of trying to book and then not actually getting the service I wanted was entirely uneccesary.
The technology is there to handle this, without fuss and without error. Our technology, Switch, can do this!
The customer journeys can be designed to provide an intuitive online booking experience. It just needs to be sport, then format based (per the image from one of our Switch clients). Football would be split into format offerings of 5, 7, 9 and 11 a side.
Then the venue simply needs to configure the basis upon which it is booked, and the service delivered. Opening hours, prices and concessions, minimum booking times and pitch configuration settings, i.e. in the example above football and tennis are using the same space, so one tennis booking makes the football pitch unavailable, and the same might be the case for a 9 a side football booking making the 7 and 11 side formats available, as they are using the same area.
Finally, an online payment processing tool (like Stripe in our case) is integrated to take payment at the point of booking, and then the confirmation flow is setup so that the customer receives an email receipt and any instructions for use of the facility, based on their booking type.
All of this can be managed easily within Switch, so that I (as a consumer) can find available facilities, check for my booking type, book, pay and know what to do when I get there. In a couple of minutes, without human intervention and free from error.
The venue sets the rules, designs the page and then drops it into their website. No fuss, lots of bookings. They can even bring in sophisticated tools using Switch like demand based pricing and limited availability windows for less lucrative bookings using the same space (i.e. one tennis court blocks the space for football, but a whole pitch football booking brings in more revenue, so tennis can only be booked 3 days in advance to optimise the football booking window).
The technology exists to do this. WE have the technology in Switch. It's simply a question of adoption and application. Venues adopting the tools and applying them so they provide an end to end service to customers looking to book different types of sports in different formats.
Please save us the added stress alongside potentially losing our kids weekend football joy, of a complex search for availability and judgement call on whether we're booking the right thing.
Consumers want simple, intuitive online booking journeys. We can provide them. Let's make this happen and save our sanity as well as our weekends!
And Switch can also do this with all your other bookable facilities by the way. Meeting rooms, desks, parking, accommation....