Why StubHub Is Still Relevant

By Sarah Lacy , written on January 23, 2012

From The News Desk

Last week a friend offered me a ticket to Sunday's 49ers game as a congratulations for starting PandoDaily.

Like a true West-Coast bandwagon sports fan, I was thrilled. My friend was a bit of a bandwagoner too and in true bandwagon style, he bought the tickets on Stubhub.

Years ago when StubHub started, it was a revelation: A marketplace for legally buying seats that fans won't use. The ultimate high-dollar perishable good. The kind of thing the Web was made for. Brilliant. Unfortunately it was a market thousands of ticket brokers rushed into as well, causing a lot of customer confusion. And then Stubhub sold to eBay-- frequently the kiss of death for any cool company.

Since then, the options have expanded even more-- with the NFL and TicketMaster even offering fans a marketplace to exchange tickets. Watching ads for that exchange during the Patriots game, I thought, "I wonder if anyone even goes to StubHub anymore? What's their edge?"

An hour later, I got my answer: Customer service. The tickets for our insanely good seats wouldn't scan. Who knows why? After standing in the long line to get in, we were told to go stand in the Will Call line. When we got to the front of that line, we were told to go stand in the customer service line, aka the fifth circle of hell.

I actually worried for my safety in the customer service line. Angry fans whose tickets also wouldn't scan had been standing there for hours waiting to talk to someone-- missing the first quarter of the game. They were mostly half drunk and just barely containing their rage.

I couldn't really blame them. These weren't people with counterfeited tickets. Standing behind us was a seven-year season ticket holder who had paper tickets that just wouldn't scan. It was a technology failure on the 49ers part and in their operational wisdom, they decided to open only two windows for all these problems-- while eight windows were open for Will Call tickets. Nevermind, by the time the game started no one was in that line. When I heard the guy in front of us say he'd been in line for two hours already, my hopes for getting in before half-time waned.

My friend called Stubhub customer service-- something I probably wouldn't have done because I've lived on Earth long enough to know that calling customer service typically only makes you more pissed off. Not this time. The first thing the representative said when he picked up the phone: "Give me your number now, in case we get cut off."

Within 15 minutes, a representative from StubHub came to meet us in line with replacement tickets that were only two rows behind the ones that wouldn't scan. We got in immediately. They were not only smart enough to buy up last minute replacement tickets in case there was a problem-- they knew to park a van right behind this awful customer service window. I felt guilty skipping out of the line, while all the other people-- including a lot of life-long fans-- who didn't use StubHub had to miss more of the game.

The fact that StubHub offered better customer service than the 49ers did to season ticket holders is stunning. And it was another example of that golden rule of business: Even a horrible customer service failure can be turned into a massive customer service win if you respond the right way. We all know this: Why don't more companies get it?

If someone on your team didn't hit a ball with his knee and is actually going to the Super Ball, and you're thinking about dropping some serious bank on a ticket, go with StubHub. Just in case.