For Roger Curtis, the motivation for a high-performance guest experience is clear: "If there are no fans in the stands, there is no Michigan International Speedway."
In recent years NASCAR racing enjoyed a boom in ticket sales and a swell in popularity, but until Curtis joined MIS as president in 2006, the track wasn't reinvesting its gains back into the fan experience in terms of better training for guest services staff and improved traffic control.
"The fans put up with a great deal," he says.
Curtis knows this firsthand. Soon after he became president he watched a race from the stands as a fan, which opened his eyes to the urgency of improving the guest experience. "That's when it really hit me. I thought, 'We have to do things differently now.' So we started immediately to turn the model upside down."
Additionally, Curtis knows that given the current economic conditions NASCAR fans are making an investment to visit the track. That pressure places an enormous responsibility on employees to meet and exceed fans' expectations.
Curtis' vision for the necessary customer experience makeover required improving the "doorstep to doorstep" experience. He started by launching a customer-focused training program for the 44 full-time employees and the 4,500 part-timers who work on weekends.
Guest feedback, he believes, is also essential for improvement, so he immerses himself in the guest experience. From visiting fans in the campgrounds to riding with them on the trams and sitting with them in the stands, Curtis essentially acts like a fan at every race. To emphasize his hands-on approach, he even created an email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, to answer fans' comments or questions personally; he's also an active listener on MIS's social media pages.
He doesn't stop there at gathering guest insight. Curtis also appointed a 24-member fan advisory board, composed of fans who demonstrate a desire to better the overall facility. But what began as a way to obtain a more granular level of feedback has since morphed into an extension of the organization. Members now participate in monthly conference calls with MIS management and attend board meetings, where they review the organization's available capital and offer suggestions on where to spend the money to improve the guest experience and to attract new guests. They even review marketing communications to determine if MIS's messaging will resonate with fans. These efforts have led to restroom upgrades, an overhaul of the tram system
to shorten guest walks, improved signage, and the addition of more comfortable seating.
Based on fan feedback, Curtis also started a fan appreciation program, in which 300 fans are awarded prizes during every race. The prizes are experiences typically reserved for star athletes or top sponsors and range from waving the start-of-the race flag to getting a garage pass, awarding the trophies, or visiting "Victory Lane." The program's popularity got the attention of NASCAR, which plans to adopt the approach at all 12 of International Speedway Corporation's tracks.
Guests are also noticing the improved experience. Compliments generated from post-race surveys and calls now outpace complaints 3 to 1. In addition, customer satisfaction rates are high, with only a 2 percent dissatisfaction rate. "We've taken the focus on the guest experience and we've pumped it up with steroids," Curtis says. "We amped it up to 10 from what was a five or a six before."