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American Pharoah captured the imagination of the thoroughbred racing world this year as he became the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed achieved that prodigious feat in 1978. For the New York Racing Association−which oversees Aqueduct, Belmont Park, and Saratoga thoroughbred racetracks−American Pharoah capped a huge Belmont Park meet that saw customer experience levels reach new heights.
Lynn LaRocca, NYRA’s SVP, Chief Experience Officer, participated in an intriguing interview with Loyalty360 to talk about improvements in the customer experience.
How would you assess or characterize NYRA’s approach toward customer loyalty, customer engagement, and the customer experience? And how has this improved in the past year or 18 months?
The customer experience team (marketing, sales, hospitality) utilized this past year to put the proper structure in place behind the scenes. We can’t serve our fans appropriately unless we have the platforms and processes in place to support. We launched an improved website (NYRA.COM) with upgraded functionalities, including the ability to watch races live in HD. We are the first racing circuit to offer this and it has been hugely successful with fans across the globe. The organization has invested resources in upgrading technology across all our facilities (Belmont, Aqueduct, and Saratoga) including sound systems, HD televisions, ticket scanning at gates, bundling admission with seat purchases, and implementing a season pass program with added benefits at Saratoga.
Of course, the organization spent a considerable amount of time and effort to hold an improved 2015 Belmont Stakes Racing Festival with better communication, transportation, wagering, entertainment, and food options. It was wildly successful–and capped off with American Pharoah’s Triple Crown win! Everything we implemented has been with a focus of improving the overall customer experience in order to foster loyalty.
Simplicity was one of the main themes at our Loyalty Expo in April. How does NYRA simplify its customer relationships to enhance brand loyalty?
The New York Racing Association is one of the pre-eminent thoroughbred circuits in the world. We have the best horses, jockeys, trainers, and owners. We needed to do some work to be a little more customer-friendly to maintain and grow our base. We’ve begun implementing internal cross-channel efforts for more efficient communications with our customers, both on and off-track. One of the changes implemented was partnering with Ticketmaster so customers could easily select their own seats at both the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival and the summer meet at Saratoga. Previously, they needed to fill out antiquated paper forms and wait for weeks before hearing whether they were getting seats. This way, our customers are in control and they know the outcome immediately. This is an example of the many ways we are simplifying our relationships with fans.
Marketers are tasked to be more data-centric than ever before, yet the challenge of creating actionable insight from data is more challenging than before. What is your advice for marketers?
Be patient and get the best possible partners available! Data can be overwhelming. Ask questions and allocate time to really read through the numbers that support the conclusions. Personal biases can intercede when we try to draw conclusions from customer data, especially when you’re looking to help set overall strategy. It’s important to work with people, both internally and externally, who can bring unbiased expertise to your insights.
Can you give us a high level overview of your customer philosophy and share how this perspective helps drive more effective engagement and, therefore, better marketing outcomes?
We’ve been talking a lot about having our customer experience be “personally relevant.” Racetracks have fans of all ages and backgrounds. Some want to spend the day in the backyard picnicking with family and friends; others want to sit in the grandstand or on the track’s apron, buy a hot dog and beer and watch the races; still others want the VIP experience of sitting in a restaurant or luxury suite with various dining options. We endeavor to make each of these experiences the best they can be. It’s challenging from a marketing perspective because your loyal fans run this gamut, but there are commonalities which help simplify the process: Where and how can you buy tickets? What are transportation, food, and beverage options? What does the race card look like?
We build our marketing communications around the core fundamentals of our business and layer on the pieces that make the experience relevant to these various groups. Soliciting feedback so we can make effective changes (racetrack patrons are not shy!), staying in constant contact and personalizing the communication with our fans drives engagement.
In a move toward customer-centricity, if you could give one piece of advice to a brand to help them increase loyalty and engagement with their customers, what would it be?
Spend the time to make sure that your communication is personalized. A one-size-fits-all strategy will not resonate with your customers or engender long-term loyalty.
How should brands attempt to keep up with the rapid proliferation of technologies, especially with some of the newer technologies harder to measure versus more traditional technologies that brands are more comfortable with?
Don’t attempt to learn or do it all at one time. Understand the technologies that are important to your customers and adopt the K.I.S.S. approach. For racing, it’s vitally important to our fans to hear, see, and wager on races, therefore, we spent a significant amount of time over the past 18 months to update the assets that deliver a quality racing experience.
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