CRM Hits One Out of the Ballpark

You walk into Safeco Field, home of baseball's Seattle Mariners. You buy your standard hot dog and soda, and you sit down in your regular seat -- which just happens to have a broken cupholder. During the bottom of the second inning, you lean over and tell an usher about the cupholder, just as a marriage proposal is displayed on the big screen. Fans hoot and holler for the happy couple, while the man on the loudspeaker promotes Singles Night, which will take place the following week. You make a mental note -- because, after all, you're single. The sun is shining, and you chuckle at the groundskeepers who begin dancing to the music that plays when Ichiro steps up to the plate. The Mariners end up winning 5-3 in an exciting game. When you return to the park the following week on Singles Night, your cupholder is fixed and you meet a nice-looking lady -- and a Mariners fan to boot! Life is good. Who would guess that this experience at Safeco Field, from the cupholder to the marriage proposal to the groundskeepers, is carefully orchestrated using customer relationship management technology? "We are managing a 19-acre ballpark where we're interacting with thousands of fans seven to 10 days in a row," says Hilary Harding, database marketing manager for the Mariners. "It takes a sophisticated CRM system to be able to ensure that we're providing a consistent and enjoyable experience for every single person who attends a game or event -- whether it's the first time they've visited, or the hundredth." According to Harding, the Mariners demonstrate perhaps the most comprehensive use of a CRM system of any team in Major League Baseball. "Every sports venue has to manage ticket sales, seat relocation, site maintenance, event planning, marketing, and concessions," she says. "We did all those things well before...but the difference is that, today, we do them better and much more efficiently." Today, 16 departments across the Mariners organization actively use the new CRM system and have seen significant business benefits. Every possible customer interaction is tracked and logged into the system. The Mariners know if you've been to one game or 20. They know if you're thinking about buying more seats or moving closer to right field. They even know your favorite player and what special events you've attended in the past -- especially if you've responded to even one of their many email and direct mail surveys and promotions. "It's really amazing how the data can build up over time," says Harding, who helped spearhead the Mariners' three-month CRM implementation in 2000. "All of a sudden, seven years later, we have a goldmine of information about our fans, and it has really opened up the floodgates for cross-selling opportunities as well as putting together special programs and events tailored to our fans' interests." For example, the Mariners have launched a new product this year called the All-Star Club. The product is a variation on the Diamond Club, where members enjoy an all-inclusive and rather luxurious ballpark experience. In addition to getting prime seats right behind home plate, parking, food, and drinks are all included as part of the Diamond Club experience. Not surprisingly, there is a waiting list -- after all, the chef never repeats a menu over the course of 81 home games. Because the Diamond Club requires a full-season commitment, it became clear from customer feedback that there were fans who wanted the option to purchase partial season ticket packages while still enjoying the same high-end experience. To launch the All-Star Club, which caters to those businesses and individuals, Harding mined the data in the CRM system before beginning her marketing campaigns. She generated lists of folks who were waitlisted to join the exclusive 352-seat Diamond Club, lists of local businesses that had previously held events at the park, and lists of former season ticket or suite holders. The response was overwhelming. Before they had even knocked down walls to build the All-Star Club, fans were rushing to sign up. Despite the obvious benefits of mining accurate customer data, Harding warns that CRM is much more than data collection. "CRM is truly about creating the desired customer experience," she says. To illustrate this point, Harding describes how the Mariners manage a number of business-critical processes within the team's CRM system -- from drafting company-endorsed responses to customer complaints to managing the cumbersome process of ticket renewals and seat relocations. One of the first processes Harding and her team upgraded to was customer feedback management. Whether a guest calls, emails, fills out a "scorecard" form, or mentions a comment to an usher, all feedback is recorded into the system the same day it is received. "Our goal is for game-day staff to enter all customer comments and complaints into the system before they leave the ballpark," she says. "The combination of process and technology is what has allowed us to set a standard that our fans should receive a response within 48 hours, and a resolution within 72 hours." Harding adds that in the first year after implementation, the number of overall complaints received dropped by 80 percent, and the number of food-service complaints decreased by 85 percent. About the Author Chad Hamblin is the director of international markets for Onyx Software, a division of Consona CRM.
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