Liverpool and Crystal Palace might not be where fans would like them to be in their respective league tables but both clubs have got things right when it comes to customer service guidelines. That’s according to a comprehensive review of Premier League and Championship club charters carried out by the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF).
Every club charter was rated 0-5 across a range of categories encompassing accessibility, timeliness, quality, clarity of complaints procedure, appeals process, and contacts for the relevant league and Independent Football Ombudsman.
Club charters provide consumer information and protection with guidelines on club policy relating to ticketing issues, complaints procedures, community work, merchandise and more. It is now 13 years since the government-appointed Football Task Force Report said that all clubs should adopt a “customer charter”.
Research carried out by the FSF found that one in four clubs had no charter or a charter that was not linked to via the club’s official website. Only one in three clubs included contact details for the Independent Football Ombudsman. The IFO rules on disputes between clubs and fans which cannot be resolved in-house.
While Liverpool topped the Premier League table it was a close run thing as Wigan Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal pushed them close with well-crafted club charters. This season’s on-field favourites Manchester City struggled when it came to club charters finishing joint 15th alongside Fulham.
That was still enough to see both City and the Cottagers finishing comfortably above Reading, Southampton, Stoke City and Swansea City. The four sides failed to muster a single point between them as the FSF could not find a club charter for any of these sides.
In the Championship Crystal Palace scored a perfect round to top the Championship table at a canter. Birmingham City and Leeds United battled it out for the runners-up spot while Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley and Cardiff City all secured top six finishes. Ipswich Town propped up the table with the Tractor Boys failing to provide fans with a club charter at all.
The FSF said that Crystal Palace deserve special praise for their willingness to work with supporters. The Eagles’ club charter sets out a very clear complaints procedure for both home and away fans. Supporters are also advised by the club to contact the FSF who “are able to offer advice and will support fans through the process”.
Martin O’Hara, deputy chair of the FSF, said:
“Football fans love their club but that passion doesn’t mean we always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes things do go wrong and the FSF believes that club charters can play a vital role, particularly when it comes to effective complaints resolution. But they’re of no use to anyone if they’re impossible to find or tucked away at the bottom of someone’s draw.
“Too many club charters are incomplete, out-of-date or don’t even appear on official websites. This is despite guidance from the Football League which has worked with the FSF to remind clubs of their obligation to good customer care and club charters. The Premier League also takes this seriously although too few of its clubs seem to share that view.
“Clubs often don’t seem to know what standard they should be aiming for but the FSF is very eager to help. We’ve worked closely with Palace and Doncaster Rovers in the past and both now have excellent club charters - we would encourage clubs to contact the FSF and work with fans on this. We genuinely believe that clubs who do so will feel the benefit.”
The FSF research should also serve as a reminder to clubs not to rest on their laurels. The organisation carried out a similar piece of work in March 2011 and found that Ipswich Town’s club charter topped the Championship pile but it’s nowhere to be seen now.
Southampton is another club whose charter has impressed the FSF in past seasons but the Saints seem to have forgotten to upload it to their website for 2012-13 – hopefully this acts as a reminder. But the FSF said that it’s not just visibility which matters when it comes to club charters as bad practice can afflict highly accessible charters too.
The FSF argues that safety officers are too often tasked with resolving fans’ complaints which causes problems as many match day complaints revolve around incidents relating a safety officer’s decision or subordinates. The FSF said this makes them unreliable adjudicators and that they shouldn’t be part of a complaint resolution process. Other clubs bury charters in corporate sections on their websites, areas fans are unlikely to look in.
The FSF is the national fans’ organisation and represents more than 200,000 individual fans and members from hundreds of affiliated supporters groups throughout England and Wales. Supporters can join free of charge at: www.fsf.org.uk/join.