Another economic factor shaping our market is the weakness of the dollar, which is causing an obvious shift by international visitors away from the United States. To increase conversion and improve the international customer experience, we put ourselves in the customer` s position and ask, What is the business process for someone traveling from abroad to buy a vacation here at Universal? Traveling to the United States has become a bigger hassle, so focusing on systems and processes executed at local airports can help reduce guest inconvenience upon arrival. We now have multiple initiatives planned to streamline the international guest` s experience from initial ticket purchase on the Web to entry into our theme parks.
Any CIO can take a few steps to get market savvy. We get weekly data about what happened in the park and what the spending trends are per guest. CIOs should get copied on any reports like that, study them and look for patterns. Don`t be afraid to ask questions about it; give yourself permission to be a smart (and inquisitive) business person. When I first joined the company and asked about market issues, people looked at me and thought, "Why did she ask that? It doesn` t have anything to do with technology." Over time they realized that I need to understand our data in order to do my job.
Its easy for me to access our customers because our theme park is next to my office. I put time on my calendar every week to go into the park. You can` t do that in every business, but you can do something similar. Tell your CEO that to serve your customers, you need to understand what drives their decision making, and ask for a major customer willing to spend time with you.
One No-Meeting Day per Week
I know it` s hard to make time for that kind of thing. I don` t always stick to it, but I try to reserve every Wednesday as a no-meeting day - that is, no meetings with my IT staff that day. They understand that it` s my time to walk around and talk to my peer group, do some research; to read my RSS feeds from travel industry websites or information that helps me be a better CIO. If you find that 100 percent of your typical day is taken up with internal meetings and operational issues, then something must change. If you really want to be a senior business leader that` s keenly focused on your target market, you have to make the time.
Michelle McKenna is CIO at Universal Orlando Resort in Florida. Amongst others she spent 13 years at Walt Disney World Company in IT, marketing and finance.