Stay One Step Ahead of Your Customers with IT

If you're satisfied with things as they are, chances are you won't be for long.

If you were working for a business where for the past eight years you had sold out all your inventory, met all your company's financial expectations and kept IT investment flat to inflation, would you have the nerve to ask your CEO to invest in an IT project you believed would improve the customer experience but for which you couldn't quantify the ROI? On the flip side, how receptive would your management team be to the idea?

Bill Schlough, CIO of the San Francisco Giants, faced this very situation. The Giants are one of only four teams in Major League Baseball history to sell over 3 million tickets for eight consecutive years, but this past year the Giants decided to make a hefty investment by installing in AT&T Park the third largest HDTV in U.S. professional sports. Their rationale is that while the Giants have one of the most loyal fan bases in the sport, a new competitor has come along and it's not another team-it's all those new HDTVs in their fans' homes, giving viewers a chance to come close to replicating the at-the-old-ballpark experience: the crack of the bat, the look on the pitcher's face, almost the smell of the hot dogs, peanuts and Cracker Jack.

So the Giants' executive team decided to invest in a technology that would enhance the customer experience in the park, giving fans a high-definition view of the game even if they're sitting in the nosebleed sections. Schlough's role, he says, is not to maintain operations but rather to "help make the customer experience memorable." Over the years, the Giants have also invested in Wi-Fi enabling AT&T Park, connected all lines of business to accommodate the sale of gift cards, implemented point-of-sale systems at all concessions and given ticket holders the option of electronically donating unwanted tickets to various charitable organizations. It certainly seems as if the Giants are doing a magical job of marrying the tradition of the grand old game with all the advantages that technology can deliver today.

So, if you were Schlough, would you have been satisfied with that reliable, predictable 3 million fans a year? Would you have focused on keeping what wasn't broken running efficiently? Or would you have made the bold decision to invest in the customer experience even though you couldn't quantify what it would drop to your bottom line? Play ball with me on this and let me know what you would have done.

Michael Friedenberg is president and CEO of CXO Media. You can reach him at mfriedenberg@cio.com.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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