Harrah's Entertainment doesn't consider itself a casino operator, hotel chain, or entertainment firm. Employees think of it as a marketing company. And at the center of it is Chief Marketing Officer David Norton.
Norton sees his job as one that revolves around customer data and insight. "We want to engender as much loyalty as possible," he says. "And we want everyone to receive really great service. Ultimately it is about exceeding the customers' expectations, surprising them with a level of personalization, and treating them with warmth and friendliness." That involves a holistic approach from the entire company-from marketing to IT to front-line employees.
Harrah's customer strategy is driven by its 40-million-member loyalty program, Total Rewards. Norton and his team collect and analyze member data to learn about the customer experience in general, as well as individual customer preferences. "We know how often a customer visits, how much they play, which offers and rewards are most appealing to them, and for a good percentage, the service scores they have provided us in the past," he says.
In addition, the company assigns customers tiered value scores and provides different levels of service based on those scores. "Their tier within the loyalty program allows them to get in shorter lines for things like hotel check-in or the buffet [and] receive beverages more quickly," Norton says.
Norton and his team also relevantly communicate with customers based on value and preferences. "For a customer who isn't visiting our properties as often as they used to, for example, we would acknowledge the change in behavior and explore the root cause. We would reinforce their ability to earn tiers by being more loyal to us and may give them a bonus incentive if they come back several times."
As a result, 81 percent of Harrah's gaming revenue comes from loyalty program members. They join and they stay, he says.
Norton places as much priority on people as he does data. "Front-line employees are critical to our success," he says. Employees at each property are trained on how to identify and treat most valuable customers. "They go through training that educates them on customer service skills and provides them with insight on the relative value of upper-tier customers versus Gold members so they can appreciate why there is a need for differentiated service."
Norton also conducts weekly customer service surveys at each property. Employees at properties that score well get quarterly bonuses across the board, he says. "It's a way to keep employees engaged while also helping them to understand how their property is doing."
Never satisfied, Norton thinks of his role as driving a constant evolution. "You can have a great strategy, but it has to provide value to the customer for it to be effective."
-- Elizabeth Glagowski
During Tony Parrottino's tenure as national sales promotion director for Saturn, the company has undergone multiple design and cultural changes. The GM brand used to sell only sedans to the economy market, but today sells vans, SUVs, and a sports car. What has remained constant, however, is the company's commitment to customer experience (retail prices are set so buyers don't have to negotiate) and corporate responsibility.
"I tell our retailers to ask themselves 'Why is this customer here?' or 'How can we make a difference in their life or improve their way of life?'" Parrottino says. "We try to get that point across while also being very humble at the same time." Saturn doesn't measure customer satisfaction, it measures customer enthusiasm. Creating enthusiastic customers requires carefully mapping out every interaction they have with the brand, Parrottino says. "When I first started doing this, we looked at 40 customer touchpoints to see how we could best manage the customer experience," he says. "We call them our 'moments of truth,' and to this day everyone in the organization is responsible for their part of those."
One of the most difficult aspects of increasing the number of Saturn owners he points to is awareness. He wants more dollars to be spent on experiential marketing and events as opposed to traditional media because choosing a car requires emotion and a physical connection. "Many people don't think of us if they're not choosing a compact or midsize sedan," Parrottino says. "The only way to convince them is to actually put them in the car, which is where our events come in."
He describes his job as "on call 24/7" because many of Saturn's grassroots campaigns run simultaneously. Five mobile event trucks visit different locations nearly every day of the year, the company works with employees and customers to build local playgrounds and homes for Habitat for Humanity, and it now promotes marathons across the country with cars custom designed for each event.
"We look at every event in every region of the country where our staff is interacting with customers to see how the brand fits in to those areas," Parrottino says. "My favorite part of my job is interacting with our customers because I feel we can do a better job if we can show them instead of telling them."
He considers the personal service and support customers get from each franchise the differentiator for the company, which makes it stand out from other manufacturers. From the no-pressure sales pitch to following up on a purchase with surveys and maintenance reminders, partnering with retail owners to create a consistent experience is important to customers.
"I hear from customers that they trust us, and our engagement makes them unafraid to share their opinions on how we can get better," Parrottino says. "That also makes them more likely to tell their friends and create more loyal customers and ambassadors for the brand."
-- Jeremy Nedelka
When Don Quigley came to Kimberly-Clark (K-C) in 2004 the consumer packaged goods company wasn't meeting its retail clients' expectations. So Quigley was tasked with improving customer involvement in product planning and strategy. After talking to the senior leaders at many of its retail customers, he discovered the problem was that they viewed K-C as a transactional vendor, not a strategic partner. "We didn't collaborate," he says. So the former Pepsi executive embarked on a plan to elevate the importance of customer development. His mission? Change the game, get a seat at their table, and drive business.
Quigley acted on his vision to exchange strategic thought leadership with the company's customers. In 2005 he started inviting retailers (the first one being Target) to become coauthors and collaborators on new products in what he termed The Indispensable Partnership Vision. The program includes Innovation Summits throughout the year that allow partners to share insights and K-C to demonstrate new product innovation and marketing ideas before they hit the market. "When you invite the retailer into your confidence and share with themthey have a vested interest in seeing [the product] succeed," he says.
But such meetings weren't enough to satisfy Quigley. He wanted to take collaboration to the next level, so he developed an Innovation Design Studio at the company's Appleton, WI, location. It includes virtual reality tools and interiors that can mimic exact detail of any client's retail environment, from specific shelving design to shopping carts. Retailers visit the studio to test new products and to collaborate on new concepts. Together, K-C and the retailers move aisles or shelving, or hone designs. "Each one of our strategic partners looks through a different lens. Nowwe bring shopper and user insights, and take those insights, and bring solutions to the marketplace," he says.
For example, when K-C brought Kleenex Ovals to the marketplace, it worked with Safeway on the shape and designed the grocery retailer packaging for a Safeway-specific campaign.
These initiatives have pushed K-C up in quality rankings. In the first two years of Quigley's customer-focused approach, Cannondale & Associates, which ranks top retailers and their suppliers, moved K-C up from 16 to 9, and then last year to the top 5. Feedback from customers also has validated the initiatives. Retailers including Albertson's, CVS, Rite Aid Pharmacy, Safeway, and Wal-Mart named K-C "vendor of the year" last year.
"Today I'd tell you that every retail partner looks at K-C entirely different," Quigley says. "That is so inspirational to the organization that we want to keep getting better. We're never satisfied with the progress-we're happy, but never satisfied."
-- Mila D'Antonio
You might not expect the key marketer for a bank to have a r?m?hat includes marketing roles in veterinary pharmaceuticals and food service, but not in financial services. Ian Sutcliffe didn't expect to follow that career path either, but six months ago -- after five years as director of marketing for McDonald's New Zealand -- he became Westpac New Zealand's general manager for marketing and brand experience.
"The benefit I've had coming from other industries is that I've been out of the office developing an understanding for customers," Sutcliffe says. "Our new CEO wanted someone who could cut through the bureaucracy and create a customer-focused organization, and that really appealed to me."
Sutcliffe adds that the people of New Zealand like transparency, and they want to see that if Westpac says it's customer-focused that the bank is delivering on its promises. "People here see right through any superficial mention of putting the customer first," he says. "You have to work hard before you can talk about it." For that reason Sutcliffe is working on getting the 150-year-old bank the recognition he believes it deserves for community involvement and social responsibility. Sutcliffe is also placing a greater emphasis on analytics and measuring satisfaction so that every person in the organization can be held accountable for doing her part to enhance the customer experience. He relies most upon the Net Promoter Score methodology, but also gains a deeper understanding of customer experience by looking at staff engagement, public perception, and online panel responses.
"We want to track our measurements by channel, product, segment, area, and even down to individual branches," Sutcliffe says. "Once we do that, the real power is when every employee understands the issues that they can have an impact on."
Sutcliffe aims to put customers at the heart of the business and gear everything toward what they want instead of what executives think they want. He believes that if everyone top down is involved in making customers see that Westpac is walking the walk customers will change their perceptions. "That's how you overcome the cynicism about banking that customers have," Sutcliffe says. "It's not something people talk about with friends and like to praise, so you have to give them a reason to recognize that you've gone above and beyond what they were expecting."
-- Jeremy Nedelka
When Brett Yormark started working for The New Jersey Nets in 1988 as a college graduate, he told owner Brett Ratner that he wanted to run the place some day. He got his wish in 2005 when he returned to the basketball franchise for the third time in his career, but this time as president and CEO.
When he left the organization, once in the 1980s and once in the 1990s, it was to work for the Detroit Pistons and at NASCAR, respectively. NASCAR, known for its fan-friendly operation, helped to hone the customer-focused processes Yormark recently implemented with the Nets to turn the franchise into a fan-centric enterprise. "I always looked at the Nets franchise as an underperforming asset," he says. "They were strong on the court, but never able to leverage that from a business perspective."
Yormark's strategy for building that asset is to have customer service and visitor retention at the core of the business. One key element of the strategy is creating a memorable fan experience. This includes holding town hall meetings with fans, inviting them to draft parties, and giving them access to players. Yormark calls himself the host of the game, not only greeting fans, but also talking to every usher and security guard. "It's truly been a differentiator for us," he says. "We're not in the business of wins and losses, we're in the business of providing fun."
Yormark's plan looks like a slam dunk. For the first two years following his return, the full season-ticket base grew 50 percent and new ticket sales for the 20072008 season jumped 30 percent higher than the 20062007 season.
In 2009 the Nets will move to the brand new Barclays Center, where Yormark intends to take the customer experience to another level by introducing amenities like delivering digital content to the seats and offering upgraded services. As always, his goal is to provide the best experience possible to fans. "We try to set the bar high and think outside the box," he says. "I don't know if we have any other choice."
-- Mila D'Antonio
Chris Zane, founder and president of Zanes Cycles in Branford, CT, has a straightforward philosophy behind his success: Treat people the way you want to be treated.
While some companies find the Golden Rule difficult to instill in their organizations, Zane has managed to do so with ease. "It's not hard to do; you just have to be willing to do it," he says. "That's the difference between what we do and what we see out there."
He emphasizes the importance of quality customer service from the moment employee training begins. Warren Weaver, Zanes' director of national sales, says Zane "electrifies" him and the other employees with his passion. "He's so passionate that we eat, breathe, and sleep customer service," Weaver says. "He's a true champion. There's no doubt about it. He raises the bar every day, challenges himself, and always tries to be better."
While training and continuous communication about service are important, so is applying customer-focused methodologies. Zane is an advocate of collecting and acting on customer data. He records the transactions of every customer who comes in the store, and leverages them by offering discounts to high-value customers and sending direct mail pieces to customers based on their preferences. Zane also routinely collects feedback. From speaking to customers directly to reading emails, he listens to what customers are saying about his store, and changes the products he sells or service he offers based on customer comments. In addition, he offers a 100 percent return policy.
Those processes have paid off for Zane, whose single location earned $15 million in 2007. In January he broke ground on his new flagship store, which Zane has designed as a "destination"-a bicycle museum of sorts. Employees on the floor will be equipped with PDAs that can access customer information; customers can sit at a Starbucks counter while they wait for repairs; and Zane is even exploring using RFID in the entryway, so when customers walk in with a bike embedded with an RFID chip, employees can easily gain access to the complete history on that bike, quickly decide on the best course of action for repairs, and suggest new accessories.
According to Zane's wife, Kathleen, the innovations planned for the new store are nothing out of the ordinary for her husband. She said he's always looking for new ways to stay in front of the competition. "Chris is not afraid to try something," she says. "His ability to think of and try new things has brought him this long, long way."
-- Mila D'Antonio