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How MGM Resorts serves the digital customer

MGM Resorts uses customer analytics to dispel a long-standing myth on how to deliver good customer service to the digital customer.

LAS VEGAS -- "We call ourselves the Vegas of Vegas," said Geoffrey Waldmiller, vice president of e-commerce at...

MGM Resorts International. MGM operates 45,000 hotel rooms, 100 restaurants, 50 clubs and 20 shows in Las Vegas. "When you own 45% of the strip, customers are going to have an experience with one of our brands," he said.

The key to delivering a positive customer experience to the millions of people who frequent MGM properties on the strip is consistency, said Waldmiller at the recent Gartner Business Intelligence and Analytics Summit. He was one of several speakers at the annual event who addressed how next-generation business intelligence software is helping companies deliver service to customers increasingly defined by their digital habits.

Bridging the analog and the digital

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas may be one of the great slogans of the tourism industry, but visitors to Sin City these days are hardly anonymous. According to Waldmiller, a big part of MGM's ability to deliver consistent customer service is figuring out how customers interact with the brand before they arrive, what kinds of decisions they make when they're in Vegas, and why they decided to come to Vegas in the first place. When Waldmiller came to the position four years ago, that level of consistency wasn't operating at full potential.

"We pride ourselves on the analog experience we give our guests," he said. "[But] we were failing on digital. Our websites were out of date. We weren't collecting the necessary information. We weren't personalizing content. So we had a gap to fill."

One of the ways MGM filled that gap was by investing in Adobe Marketing Cloud, a subscription-based service that offers a suite of customer analytics products. Waldmiller described the technology as a way to improve data collection, to set up experiments on MGM websites, to tap into social media and to seamlessly manage its digital properties.

Adobe Marketing Cloud was originally designed with the CMO in mind, but, in a move that crystalizes how critical technology -- and IT -- is these days to building relationships with customers, Adobe is attempting to break the technology out of marketing departments.

"We're developing capabilities beyond the CMO that still put customers at the center but understand that other constituent organizations care about customers and need to act on data from customers in order to deliver a … more powerful experience," Jeff Allen, senior director of product marketing at Adobe Analytics, said at the Gartner summit.

Analytics dispels a marketing myth

Acting on data to deliver better customer service could serve as the slogan for MGM's efforts -- with the emphasis on acting. Waldmiller said his team planned to use Adobe to look across device behavior and integrate all of that data together, but they started with smaller projects to show that the technology was worth the investment. "We realized we just wrote a sizable check and we wanted to accelerate our time to ROI," he said.

Six weeks before the end of 2013, Waldmiller and his team, along with the IT department, began tagging 18 different websites to create a consistent data layer or taxonomy across all digital properties. And they started going after quick wins to create "organizational momentum."

In some cases, they used data already collected to achieve those quick wins. But, in cases where the digital data didn't exist, Waldmiller and his team had to build experiments, which started by establishing a governance framework understood by marketing stakeholders across all MGM properties. Waldmiller was already leading a website redesign effort and phasing out some of the legacy sites, and so he and his team started there.

"We did simple tests first and then I said, 'Let's go for the jugular,'" he said. The aim: to figure out what kind of information to surface in the right-hand column of a site when a customer searched for hotel rooms. "When I'm searching for dates out of MGM Grand, what properties do I show [in the right-hand column] as alternatives? And does it actually help or hurt conversion by giving alternative options," he said.

They compared the results of four experiences. Experience A, the control group, surfaced information for room upgrade opportunities only. In experience B, no information was surfaced in the right-hand column. In experience C, other properties were shown from most to least expensive. In experience D, all properties were shown.

"The winner, by a large margin, was experience D," Waldmiller said, adding that it provided a 7% lift in revenue. But they also discovered that experience B, showing nothing, also outperformed the control group. "We've argued about it for years, and we finally had data to answer the question," Waldmiller said.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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How is your company integrating online and offline customer behavior?
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I think events/meetups are one major way to do this - learning in person what people care about (and sometimes they are demonstrating that just by showing up), and then translating that online when following up. Making sure the experience/messaging are consistent is important. 
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