Test or get Fired! Harrah’s casino’s amazing philosophy

Analytics needs a evangelist! Without such a person, you just don’t get the impact that Analytics actually is capable of providing! Mostly this evangelist needs to be right at the top, the CEO! I have worked with a range of industries & everywhere the degree of impact shoots up once you have a CXO who is evangelising this change.

Of course, some CMOs have led their organizations into embracing the practice, including John Costello, former exec VP-CMO of Home Depot; John Elkins, head of global brand and marketing at Visa International; and Cathy Lyons, CMO-exec VP at Hewlett-Packard.

One organization which has become a huge case study in the application of a “fact” based approach to business is Harrah’s Entertainment! Recently though it had a messy bankruptcy of its casino operating unit and reportedly faced fines of up to $20 million over money laundering allegations. The most valuable of the assets being fought over by creditors is the data collected over the last 17 years through the company’s Total Rewards loyalty program.

Back in 1998, as Harrah’s was about to embark on a wave of expansion, their CEO Philip Satre asked Gary Loveman to take a break from Harvard to become chief operating officer of Harrah’s Entertainment. The important thing was the he was not brought in as a CMO but as the COO-he had the line authority to make changes that would impact the business!!

“In terms of income, it was actually a pay cut,” Loveman says, since he had to forego the consulting that supplemented his income as a professor.

He went on to develop the gaming industry’s most successful loyalty and analytics program—Total Rewards—which boasts more than 40 million members.

In an interesting article, Karl Taro Greenfeld says this about Gary Loveman, who has since then also become the CEO: the chief executive officer of Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., the largest gaming corporation in the world, sees his customers as a set of probabilities wrapped in human flesh.

Since taking over as CEO in 2003, Loveman, 50, has relied on the numbers to build Harrah’s from a regional operator of 15 casinos to one with 39 in the U.S. and 13 more overseas.

His first big move as COO was to start a loyalty program called Total Rewards, which became such a success — growing to over 40 million members by 2010, the largest database of probabilities in the industry — that by the time Satre stepped down in 2003, Loveman had become the logical choice to succeed him.

Loveman earned a Ph.D. in economics at MIT and went on to become CEO, president, and chairman of Caesars Entertainment, owner of Harrah’s casinos and other resorts worldwide.

Loveman says there are three ways to get fired from the hotel and casino company: theft, sexual harassment, and running an experiment without a control group.

But this seems like common sense, run experiments , see what works & scale up! And yet very few companies do it.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economics professor at Duke University and the author of Predictably Irrational, outlined some of the resistance to experimentation that he’s come up against.

“I’ve often tried to help companies do experiments, and usually I fail spectacularly,” Ariely writes. For a company struggling with getting a good bonus system in place, he suggested experiments or even just a survey. Management, he says, “didn’t want to add to the trouble by messing with people’s bonuses merely for the sake of learning. But the employees are already unhappy, I thought, and the experiments would have provided evidence for how to make them less so in the years to come.”

But Gary Loveman managed to stay incredibly committed to Testing. These tests run from the use of coupons to offers of free meals or hotel stays, all designed to get customers to spend more money during their playtime.

This is what he said when asked about the Testing culture: “We need to overcome hunch and intuition with empirical evidence. . . . We can start with a hunch or strong belief, but we act on it through experiment. We want evidence. We’ve gone from the introduction of experimentation as a technique to a culture of experimentation as a business discipline. We hire people predisposed to do this by temperament and by background. Organizationally, we’re committed—and I’m committed—to making sure we have the discipline to have the decisions we make informed by this evidence”.

So what is the future for analytics in Gambling? Over time with data being leveraged by everyone, it was only natural for analytics to also start helping the players. Big data services quickly appeared that were designed to empower gamblers, giving them more information and helping them strategize more effectively. One such site that made full use of big data is SharkScope, which collects data from millions of online poker games every day. Players can track all their statistics on the site as a way to improve and increase their chances of winning.

And lastly we must also ask ourselves, is this kind of Analytics good for society! It’s estimated that 3 to 5 percent of people who gamble develop an addiction to the activity, which can lead to an array of problems for gamblers, their families, and society at large. Keeping gamblers coming back may hurt them & cause a lot of turmoil in many lives! Does analytics not have a social responsibility!

Your Bank can be Amazon & Google!

Roughly one in three banking and insurance customers globally would consider switching their accounts to Google, Amazon, or Facebook ,if the tech giants offered financial services, according to a new survey.

Google , Amazon & Facebook have been setting standards for degree of personalisation & powerful customer experience.

Newspapers are getting disrupted by online resources. These same web destinations are becoming less relevant as people simply lift and filter the information they want using RSS feeds. The music CD is being unbundled as customers buy individual tracks online Power has shifted to customers: it’s no longer about the products that marketers want to sell but about the content components that users want to consume & mash up together.

The new battlefield lies in the control of the user interface and the customer intelligence system that supports it. Companies that build highly equipped Customer intelligence units will win in the coming days.

The internet is disrupting retail & I am sure Retail banking is also waiting to be disrupted. According to Capgemini’s 2014 World Retail Banking Report (WRBR), less than 40% of customers globally reported positive customer experiences with their financial institution. But banks still push products on their own terms. Take a term deposit for 3 or 6 months? Well, why can’t I have it due on April 28th, which happens to be my birthday?

Google has launched its own mortgage calculator, and imagine what an Amazon Bank could look like, but who are the startups disrupting banking today? Mostly these are the Fintech companies! New age companies are very good at embedding design & personalisation into the fabric of their business.

The other thing, which the new-age companies do very well, is the notion of ‘profitable data sharing’. They do not hesitate to share data across partners to ensure their customers get a kickass solution. They share data through APIs. There are over 14,441 APIs offered by firms today, according to programmableweb.com.

Amit the Co-Founder & Chief Curator of Let’s Talk Payments had this interesting statement:  “As FinTech startups continue to disrupt traditional financial services, banks are also waking up to the fact that offering an open API—where developers can latch on and create very specific customized app solutions—is the way to engage and retain their customers in the future”.

Adaptive Path, a design and user experience consultancy has been acquired by Capitol One. And just before that Daniel Makoski, founder of Google’s modular Project Ara phone project joined Capital One.

In the new digital world, banking & creativity may not be oxymorons!

New banks in India have a unique opportunity to embed “digital” in the fabric of how they do business. But banks are complex with structures that don’t allow for speed. In many cases, eBusiness teams own the mobile banking strategy, but few eBusiness teams have an exclusive mandate over their firm’s mobile banking initiatives. This division of responsibility creates silos and adds significant complexity to the coordination and optimization of Digital efforts.

What does design have to do with finance, money and banking?

Brands that use design very effectively are far easier to spot nowadays because we interact so much with fast growing digital businesses, Ola, Amazon etc. Consumers, especially Millennials, are learning to expect more from the companies they choose to do business with. And they are not limiting their benchmarks within one industry-I want my Netbanking to be as easy as the Uber interface!

‘Project Pokhran’, as Paytm calls its payments bank project is due for launch the summer of 2017 & they may begin to look at banking very differently.

New banks in India ,IDFC & Bandhan, better be listening.

A few years ago Adaptive Path, a design and user experience consultancy was acquired by Capitol One. And just before that Daniel Makoski, founder of Google’s modular Project Ara phone project joined Capital One.

Then Capital one acquired Money management App, Level Money. The app is focused on the Millenials & helps users set savings goals & offers suggestions for what they can do with their extra cash.

Capital One recently launched what is called as Capital one Labs. This is what they call the “rogue innovation arm” of the bank. Lab members have opened a series of “Capital One 360 Cafes”, a hybrid of a coffee shop & a bank branch. Here employees interview café customers to get real time feedback on new prototypes.

In the new digital world, banking & creativity may not be oxymorons!

Some time back I came across this Job requiremnet at Capital one:

Design Strategist

As a strategic thinker with a focus on innovation for our banking business, you will have the opportunity to define, design, and develop new products and services that defy industry expectations and meet real human needs.

At Capital One, we’re building a leading information-based technology company. Still founder-­led by Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Richard Fairbank, Capital One is on a mission to help our customers succeed by bringing ingenuity, simplicity, and humanity to banking. We measure our efforts by the success our customers enjoy and the advocacy they exhibit. We are succeeding because they are
 succeeding.

New banks in India have a unique opportunity to embed “digital” in the fabric of how they do business. Maybe some of them will come up with teams that include a “Design strategist”.

But banks are complex with structures that don’t allow for speed. In many cases, eBusiness teams own the mobile banking strategy, but few eBusiness teams have an exclusive mandate over their firm’s mobile banking initiatives. This division of responsibility creates silos and adds significant complexity to the coordination and optimization of Digital efforts.

And yet, the user experience is the key for more consumers to adopt the bank’s digital channels.

As the infrastructure of digital technology — the chips, network connections, computing — becomes ever cheaper, they’re becoming commodities, and the value of tech products is shifting to the design and the user experience. But the real value starts to flow when companies orchestrate the User experience with Personalisation.

Personalization, it seems, is really about gathering exactly the data that’s needed in order to perform a particular task. Think about how Amazon asks users whether purchases were for themselves or as gifts, or how streaming services like Netflix and Pandora ask users to rate content. But personalization is a complex process involving multiple components:

Some areas to ponder about:

  • What do you think about the internet & mobile disrupting banks? Which areas can the banks defend and which are vulnerable to disruption?
  • What do banks need to do to modernise their architectures to compete against the new wave of startups? Will they offer API’s to other brands?
  • What is the new age Customer intelligence unit that can be the nerve centre for competing in this landscape? How do they capture unique customer data & create a competitive differentiator by mapping the Customer DNA ?
  • How will banks completely transform their digital experience? Or would the new Fintech innovators show the banks the way?

It would be interesting to see how the new Indian banks & the existing players shape up to this new reality.

Customer centricity-bringing customers in the boardroom!

Amazon aspires to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.” Numerous mission statements are sprinkled with customer focus. But in reality it is hard to actually be customer centric. Many companies talk about it but only a few achieve the holy grail!

I loved the concept that Prof Ranajoy Gulati speaks about:  “In fact the big leap that companies need to make is to “not sell what they produce” but to “solve customer problems” & then suddenly “who produces the product is no longer important “because you start “owning the problem space”.

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Customer-centric companies tracked by Gulati between 2001 and 2007 delivered shareholder returns of 150 percent while the S&P 500 delivered 14 percent. While research like this looks great, one wonders why there are not too many companies who “really put the customer at the centre”. Only companies who are great at “disruption” seem to truly belong to the category of obsessively customer focused. A customer-centric organization’s business is built completely around the customer. This kind of company has a strong understanding of the customer’s value and what the customer represents to the business’s profitability. With this knowledge, a customer-centric company adapts everything it does – from R&D to Customer service – to deliver the best value at the right cost to their customer.

The old adage that customers are always correct may not always be right. Current breed of customers are spoilt for choice & empowered. E commerce industry in India is a classic example where consumers are getting pampered with discounts. But there is a difference between “customer friendliness” & “customer centricity”. Companies create value for customers but also have to capture value in their business to be sustainable.  So are companies like Amazon & Zappos the outliers? Zappos actually says that If a customer calls for a product and Zappos does not have the product in stock, they recommend a competitor who has it. While Zappos will lose the sale, in the long run it’s best for Zappos because the customer appreciates the help and tells their friends the story. It creates word of mouth.

Peter Fader, of HBS, has this interesting take: “Customer centricity is a strategy to fundamentally align a company’s products and services with the wants and needs of its most valuable customers. That strategy has a specific aim: more profits for the long term. This is a goal that every business would like to achieve… But you’ll only be able to get there and put customer centricity to use if you are willing to start thinking in new—and in some cases, truly radical—ways.”

So how should companies become more Customer centric:

  1. Sort customers into –who gives value & who does not?
  2. Operations-develop the ability to deliver different products & services to different customers-not easy! At first the operations folk will always say no!
  3. Creating a customer-centric culture where you don’t script every interaction. Therefore, employees need to be able to make the right judgment calls on their own when dealing with customers.
  4. Focus on customer satisfaction & retention over customer acquisition. In a 2013 Forrester survey of global CMOs, 63% listed acquiring new customers as their top priority, while just 22% said retaining current customers was their top goal. In India this is particularly hard because of low penetration of products & services.
  5. Customer-obsessed enterprises must migrate investment budgets from areas that traditionally created dominance — brand advertising, distribution, mergers for scale, and supplier relationships — and invest in Retention & customer experiences

Prof Niraj Dewar, Professor in marketing at the Ivey Business School has this interesting comment:  “Companies’ upstream activities, such as sourcing, production, and logistics are being commoditized or outsourced, while downstream activities aimed at shaping customers’ perception and reducing their costs and risks are emerging as the main sources of competitive advantage. To compete effectively, companies must shift their focus from upstream to downstream activities, emphasizing how they define their competitive set, influence customers’ purchase criteria, innovate to solve customer problems, and build advantage by accumulating customer data and harnessing network effect”.

I had written about this earlier as well. What does Customer centricity mean to you? I would love to have your feedback. Here is what I feel:

  1. Being loyal to customers & not the other way around (customers needing to be loyal to the company). This needs companies to have a longer term view of customer lifetime value & not a short term view of immediate profit. It needs an internal senior level stakeholder who champions the customer cause (CMO?)
  2. Become more accessible to customers & respond faster to their needs. This needs companies to move from “insight to action”. To act faster, companies need to break silos within their organisation to be able to respond to customers.
  3. Use information to make every interaction relevant & use customer data to more powerfully personalise company’s interactions with the customer. The Big data world is only producing more such information for marketers to leverage. This amounts to a mass customisation strategy where the CIO & CMO need to work very closely together to make meaningful changes in the company’s operating environment. And most critically, to do this keeping the customers sensitivity to privacy as paramount!
  4. Strategically think through what culture changes the enterprise needs to become more customer centric. Today technology & Big data based insights can help you accelerate this process.

For those of you in Mumbai, we at Cequity are doing this wonderful conference called Customer centricity world 2015 which has a keynote by Dr Bala Balachandran. Do join us for this conference & you can learn more here: http://www.customercentricityworld.com/#about