ESPN Keeps Fans Watching (and Playing) with Teckst

About ESPN

ESPN is a US-based global cable and satellite sports television channel owned by The Walt Disney Company and Hearst Communications. In response to increased demand for online and mobile viewership, the company launched WatchESPN in 2010 and released the mobile app the following year. WatchESPN allows fans to view a wide variety of live sporting events from leagues such as the NBA, NHL, and MLB on their computers and mobile devices. It’s used by thousands of people every day to stream events and connect to other fans. Twenty million sports enthusiasts also use ESPN Fantasy for fantasy sports play.

No matter the channel, ESPN strives to create a positive fan experience, which includes interacting with fans on their own time. In 2016, ESPN decided to provide users of these two services a way to get quick answers to support issues like forgotten passwords or problems streaming by providing SMSbased support. The brand selected Teckst, which provided two-way messaging capabilities along with a robust platform that made it easy for agents to provide personalized service to fans in real time. The company also offered white glove customer service and extensive experience with implementing messaging across a variety of industries such as retail, subscription services, and travel.

“Very few people record live sports and watch later. So we need to be where the fans are, in the moment.”

Doug Kramon
Senior Director of Customer Operations and Fan Support

Fewer Seats, but Higher Satisfaction

Moreover, given that
of smartphone users in the US have unlimited SMS plans, everyone from baby boomers to Millennials to Gen Z is comfortable texting.

ESPN is a mobile-first company. If a fan is watching a live event and encounters an issue, ESPN considers it a missed opportunity because that fan likely won’t go back and watch a recorded version. Customer support needs to live on the platform they are using. However, the company had not seen great success with in-app chat solutions because fans didn’t enjoy using them. ESPN fans span all generations, and the company found that older fans were not as comfortable interacting via a tiny chat window inside an app that’s already on a small screen.

Doug Kramon, Senior Director of Customer Operations and Fan Support, knows that sports fans have more viewing options than ever before, and ESPN needs to follow the trends. However, while most other providers are pushing in-app support and bots, he remains a staunch believer in SMS. He commented,

“People are already familiar with it, and the screen is biggest in a native SMS world. If you’re doing in-app support, then it becomes more like chat, and they’re going to act like a chat customer. That makes your seat more expensive!”

ESPN invests quite a bit to staff its omni-channel contact centers with care reps who can support all channels (phone, chat, texting, social, etc.) in order to ensure that fans will have a cohesive experience and not be passed around the organization to get their issues resolved. Their goal is to maximize the productivity of each representative without letting customer satisfaction (CSAT) suffer. Once they implemented Teckst, they found that fans contacted support via the SMS channel in numbers that quickly exceeded the phone channel because it was available directly in the app. As a result, satisfaction scores increased. Doug commented,

“What we found is that with SMS the fan doesn’t have to get back to us immediately, but they know we’re still there. They can take an average of 5-8 minutes to respond to us, but that’s still real time, because it’s on their terms. They’re not saying ‘Are you still there?’ This method fits our fan base.”

According to Doug, each ESPN support representative can handle an average of 17-20 cases at once, with CSAT ratings as good as phone or chat. This incredible efficiency is due to both the asynchronous nature of texting and the tools within the Teckst platform that allow for the monitoring of multiple conversations on a single screen.

Each ESPN support representative can handle an average of
cases at once.

The agent provides that human element that we like to call ‘collaborative compassion.

Doug Kramon
Senior Director of Customer Operations and Fan Support

Smooth Implementation and Integration

When ESPN started working with Teckst, they opted to use the Core platform with no CRM integration, as it best fit their workflow at the time. Teckst trained ESPN representatives on texting best practices, and managers were given access to useful tools like a sandbox, supervisor shadowing, and analytics. The agents immediately embraced texting as a channel because it gave them a little extra time to get the right answer for the customer vs. live chat, where an immediate response is expected. With texting, the end user was able to continue living their life while the ESPN representative was troubleshooting their issue.

Once ESPN implemented Zendesk CRM, Teckst integrated into the platform quickly and easily, with no third parties, extra expense, or channel downtime. The Teckst team collaborated with ESPN to match their Zendesk workflows, ensuring that the integration was intuitive for the ESPN representatives. Teckst now lived inside Zendesk, so they could see all conversations with the fan, whether phone, email, chat, etc. in the same place.


For ESPN, SMS isn’t about call deflection. It’s actually the fastest growing contact model they have, exceeding both live chat and phone. In fact, the addition of the SMS channel has taken phone from the most popular channel to last place. This is great news for the organization, because phone support is far more expensive than any other channel. Although ESPN does not measure phone calls by minute as a KPI, Doug estimates that a phone call costs about $1.50 per minute, per agent. Messaging takes this number down to 9-15 cents per minute, per agent–all with no decline in CSAT scores. In fact, ESPN’s CSAT is charting 2% over the industry average of 93%, at 95%.

For Doug and his organization, it’s important to keep customer service human. “When it comes to SMS, we can make sure it’s not a bot and get them directed to the right department. You’d be surprised how many great ratings our agents get. Even if the fan doesn’t like a particular policy, they feel heard. The agent provides that human element that we like to call ‘collaborative compassion.’

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