After three years of poring over how customers used its first mobile app, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment recently rolled out a new set of apps designed to engage park visitors with a more personalized, interactive experience.
SeaWorld, a $1.5 billion company that runs Busch Gardens and Sesame Place in addition to its famous marine-life theme parks, found that customers liked some features in the app’s first iteration, such as using it to find their car after a long day. But overall, visitors wanted a more responsive app than the one SeaWorld began offering in 2011, says CIO Darla Morse.
The new Discovery Guide mobile apps can display up-to-the-minute ride wait and show times. Users can get alerts about exclusive offers and can filter the list of rides by height requirements, so they see only the ones their kids can ride.
Interactive maps use a smartphone’s GPS to suggest routes between attractions with estimated walking times. The apps also include scavenger hunts as a way to gamify engagement and education. This past summer, SeaWorld added a mobile wallet for one-touch purchasing: Visitors can enter credit card information into the app, then buy items quickly all day. “This is our park in your pocket,” Morse says.
Give the People Apps They Want
SeaWorld spent significant time figuring out what visitors want and tailoring the new apps to their tastes. Along with usage data from the old app, the company surveyed guests and gathered feedback through social media. T
hat’s an important lesson for all organizations, says Nisha Sharma, a managing director at Accenture. “You need to include users in requirement gathering,” Sharma says.
“We learned we needed a platform that integrated with our back-end system [for rides and shows] to make this a more interactive, real-time functional place for our guests,” Morse says.
Another lesson learned: The app needed a strong foundation. Morse’s team mapped out the design to understand which systems would be affected and what changes would be necessary for the new features. “A lot of companies get scope creep because they’re pouring cement before the design is finished,” Morse says, noting that her team used a waterfall development methodology to build the foundation but will use agile development to quickly add new capabilities.
SeaWorld worked with vendor TE2 to manage and secure real-time connections between core systems such as ticketing, e-commerce, park scheduling, content management, and its Discovery Guide apps.
Building that strong foundation led to another crucial lesson: The need for IT to work with other teams within the organization. The team met daily and updated key stakeholders monthly, Morse says. “This cannot happen without every single group we have: marketing, operations, merchandizing, culinary, IT. We work very closely with all these to ensure that what we do drives value.”