2020 has been the most turbulent year of our generation, and yet for Liverpool FC it has also become the crowning achievement. In a stadium that remained empty due to social distancing measures, the current European and World club champions capped off a historic 2019-2020 season with their first league title in 30 years. On the eve of the club's crowning, Mitel CMO David Silke spent some time with Liverpool FC’s Vice President of Fan Experience, Jo Kirkham, to find out how the team is handling the current challenges and orchestrating even greater connections with fans during this historic time.

Here's a transcription of the video:

David Silke: So hello, everybody. Welcome to the Mitel Making Connections Chatcast. We're really honored to have Jo Kirkham with us, who's the Head of Fan Experience at Liverpool Football Club. We'll talk about the reason this is such an iconic day for Liverpool in a second. But, Jo, first of all, a big hearty welcome and thanks for joining us today.

Jo Kirkham: Well, thank you for having me.

Dave 0:30: Tell us a little bit about you, your background, and what you do at Liverpool.

Jo 0:38: I'm the Vice President for Fan Experience at Liverpool Football Club. I've been really lucky to be with the club for just over two and a half years now. I have a background working in retail, contact centers, customer service and hospitality. I was delighted to join the club to help shape the fan experience proposition; particularly, as you say, in this amazing time in the club's history.

Dave 1:10: Mitel has been involved with Liverpool for the past two years. Little did we know that we would be working with the Premier League Champions for the 2019-2020 season. Today, for anybody listening, it's July 22, and a very famous thing will happen tonight at Anfield where Liverpool will get the Premier League Trophy. Jo, a big congratulations from everybody here at Mitel. It must be an amazing day for everybody at the club.

Jo: 1:41: It's an incredible day for everyone at the club, and for everybody who supports the club. Thirty years is a long time to wait, and the excitement has been building, despite some of the external factors that everybody's had to deal with in the last few months. But we couldn't be prouder.

Dave 2:00: Many congratulations! You mentioned that every one of us are dealing with the pandemic in our own way, and many were forced to make changes in their lives. Tell us a little bit about your own experience from last two or three months. How have you managed to get through this time and continue working?

Jo 2:20: Well, like you said, it's been difficult for everyone in some way, some to greater or lesser degrees. Like many, I had very short notice about transitioning to work remotely. I have always worked remotely for part of my week. I do have a fair distance to travel to work. But, actually being at home, working remotely all the time has required me to work very differently. Not only have I been working at home, I have also had to become an educator for my small child and a teenager. I had to take on that new role as a teacher, while also getting used to my home being the office for two different businesses, because my husband also works from home. We had two different schools as well, and were trying to work out home space versus office space. I have to say, once we boosted the Wi-Fi, life became much easier. For everyone, it's been really challenging. I think adapting to a different rhythm and routine while being with the same people and looking at the same view all the time has completely transformed our world.

Dave 3:27: It certainly is a different world. I think it has blended our lives between work and regular life, and we had to find a balance between the two. Sometimes it's difficult to differentiate between work and life. It's quite challenging, I think.

Jo 3:47: I think it is very challenging. As you bring work into your home, you have to be more aware of the impact that has on you, your family, and the people that you work with.

Dave 4:00: Yeah, absolutely. I think the last Liverpool FC game I saw was when Manchester United played Liverpool. Just about four or five weeks after that, you were looking at a complete lockdown. Tell me a little bit about how the Liverpool FC and its employees have dealt with the pandemic. How have you managed to keep the communication open with your fans? It must have been very challenging.

Jo 4:34: I think like every club and every business, we've had to adapt, and our supporters had to adapt as well. My team is fan services, and we are most in contact with our fans on a daily basis. We had to move to a remote working model with very little notice. We decided to move to that model in advance of the nationwide lockdown announcement. We have a team who suddenly had to use their home as their workplace, so we had to work with them, to understand what technology and support mechanisms were needed to enable this change.

We've had to adapt channels that people can work through with their home circumstances. We had to increase our flexibility with working hours, to allow employees to manage their personal commitments, and the commitments to our supporters. We've also had to focus on communicating with fans in the right place, at the right time, and change the topics that we're communicating about. In essence, from a fan services perspective, we had to accelerate what would have been an 18 month roadmap into less than six weeks.

Dave 5:51: It is incredible to think about condensing 18 months into such a short period of time. Jo, it's a difficult question, but how do you get your head around that? Do you set a series of milestones? Do you say, "We have to reevaluate everything, and do it in an extraordinarily quick period of time"? I'm really interested in knowing what your first reaction was. How do you think about those milestones that you have to set?

Jo 6:20: Within my team, we understood the priorities, not only in terms of the upcoming peaks in demand, but also, the priorities that our people would have in terms of working remotely. In terms of milestones, it all contained necessity. I have to borrow a phrase from a colleague. "Necessity is the mother of invention, isn't it?" If we had formerly planned things, we would have had gateways, checks, and a huge amount of testing. I think we had to be pragmatic about what we could achieve, and be happy to move to a more agile implementation model. We had to think, What do we have? Is it working? How do we improve it? What do we add on to it incrementally, to continue to improve it? I suppose we really needed to understand what equipment people did and didn't have.

There were some new issues that we had to overcome as well. If people were working from home, what level of security did they have on their own devices? And what do we need to get them to upgrade to? Then we had to really evaluate the way we were going to meet people and train people. Actually, one of our great achievements in this period is that people were taught how to work remotely, remotely. We trained them all digitally, whereas in a former world, we would have done that in a conference room, sitting around a table through a PowerPoint demonstration. I think the milestones were less formal than they would have been in a normal world.

Dave 8:07: Of course, you speak a lot about the the workforce. How did you maintain that fan experience through this time? It started with the initial communication through the lockdown, and then the recognition that the season was about to begin, and then it actually began. Talk a little bit about maintaining that fan experience through those various different stages. I know those stages are still continuing, but I think people would be really interested in hearing about that.

Jo 8:40: Our priority is always to provide as much information as we can up front. In the changing situations of the world that we are living in, some of the information that we want to provide hasn't been as easy to reach. We have to provide reassurance and clarity on the information we do have. We have to understand our changing priorities at a very personal level as well.

If I think about my traditional engagement through fan experience, we would have some very clear issues that people would talk to us about this time of year. But Covid has put a different lens on some of those things. We now need to understand what information, or appetite people have, to engage with us, with that new lens overlaid. I think the key to maintaining that fan experience is trying to deliver as much of it digitally as we possibly can. We have digital programs and we have delivered our new Matchday Center. We have tried to give people the same sense of excitement about what's happening behind closed doors, as if they had been able to visit Anfield in person. We are trying to keep that personal touch that Liverpool's really good at.

Dave 10:05: You have always talked about, as an organization, putting the fan first. That moves into a completely different experience. It must be challenging for a lot of the demographic of Liverpool supporters to adapt to a digital or remote experience. How have you seen the fan experience change? Was there an adoption of technology? What were some of the challenges and hurdles that you probably never have even thought about, that you had to overcome very quickly?

Jo 10:38: I think, actually, a lot of our fans are incredibly digitally minded. Our fans represent the Great British public at large, in terms of their REM and their digital focus. I think whether you are engaging with a football club, or your bank or with your retailer, it's clear that everyone has been faced with similar challenges. I think people have embraced technology in a way that they haven't before. We've seen people using social media to contact us. We've launched a web chat during the time that we've been in lockdown. We are really proud that we have been able to deliver digitally during this time, and these options give people alternatives.

I think from a fan services perspective, we're really keen to connect with people in the easiest channel possible for them. We've also maintained some of our traditional approaches, because it's not fair to assume or push everyone in one direction at the same time. We should be meeting people in the spaces they feel comfortable talking to us in. We have also tried to create a sense of community.

I don't know whether you've seen the hashtag #LFCathome—it's the campaign that's been running. Today we have videos of fans who can't come together because of the circumstances to share this momentous occasion sharing their personal celebrations with videos of trophy lifts. We've used community to stay connected with people in this really challenging time.

Dave 12:22: It sounds like that that was your biggest challenge beforehand: how do you orchestrate the community? And how do you continue to communicate with that community? That must be very challenging. Now emerging from that, and seeing an overwhelmingly positive side, you are probably thinking into the future. How will this pandemic affect how the club drives that fan experience moving forward?

Jo 12:52: We're all very hopeful that we will be able to gather together in person when it's safe to do so, but that is out of our hands. We have been able to reopen our retail stores and our online store. The museum and tours are up and running, all of which are adhering to government guidelines, and have measures in place to allow them to operate safely. But, our offering does need to change long term, and and we're working through what those implications will be and how we will engage our fans in the best way possible. Even when we resume football behind closed doors, we have to reflect national guidance. The way we engage our fans on process will be critical.

Dave 13:40: Jo, has there been a single learning experience, either technology wise or behavior wise? Or is it just the overall, collective approach that you've learned most from?

Jo 13:56: I'm always wary of offering advice to people, but I can tell you what I'm really proud of. I'm really proud of the fact that my team has approached everything with a positive mindset. They are constantly asking, "How do we do it? How do we accomplish it?" I'm really proud that they have moved mountains on behalf of our supporters and our club, to maintain and improve our efforts.

In terms of learning, I think the one thing that I will take away from this is that it's important to stay connected with people, be mindful of what's going on around them, stay in touch with employees and fans. Those are key, and the ability to perfect that remotely means we will have better practices in the future, even in an in-person setting. When we are able to come back together as a group, we shouldn't forget the lessons we learned when we were apart.

Dave 15:13: As challenging as this situation has been, there's been some just incredibly powerful moments where communities came together in virtual and some physical ways. I think that's a lesson that we all learned. I love the words that you used, around the community, and maintaining that focus. Ultimately, if we don't learn from the things that we've gone through, it is an opportunity that we will have missed.

Jo 15:44: I couldn't agree more. Sometimes, it takes a sizable occurrence for you to reevaluate how you could do things differently, doesn't it? If we take the opportunity to reevaluate our efforts and take the best bits out of this time, then hopefully we will come out stronger in the long run.

Dave 16:09: Yeah. You mentioned that there's no crystal ball around what may or may not happen over the next months, and potentially a year. But, do you have any idea for Liverpool Football fans what that fan experience is going to look like in the near future? Is it likely to continue to significantly change? You've mentioned the hybrid approach: the physical and the digital. But how do you see that continuing to evolve over the next month or so?

Jo 16:42: Well, I think we've learned a huge amount in the last few months. The shaping of the physical experience will depend on the guidelines that every football club, and every sporting organization, will need to work within. But what I can tell you is that we would approach it from a Liverpool perspective to figure out the best means possible. We want to offer our fans the best experience that we possibly can, within the confines that we have to work in. That will be our intent as we move through the next couple of months. I can't outlay for you at the moment what the blended experience will look like because that's still in the works.

Dave 17:27: I was having a conversation yesterday and somebody said, "Things used to change by the week, and then they change by the day, and now they change by the hour, if not by the minute". Jo, it's been a pleasure as always to speak with you. You've been so kind in our overall partnership to have spoken to our customers and our partners of Mitel in the past. It's really nice to hear your perspective as the head of the fan experience, that you're thinking through the immediate challenges and the longer term challenges. Again, a hearty congratulations on behalf of everybody at Mitel to yourself in the entire Liverpool Football Club organization, on the Premier League win. We certainly hope, even if it is virtually, that you all enjoy the experience this evening when you receive the trophy.

Jo 18:23: Thank you. We're really proud to work with partners such as yourself. We will take great pride in lifting that trophy, but know that it's a sum of many parts. So, thank you.

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